Illinois House Races

Illinois looks like an exciting state in 2010, with both competitive Senate and Governor races. The grassroots may have been disappointed in the primary, but there really is no reason for that. There was no serious challenge to Kirk, and while the Tea Party candidate didn’t win the Governor spot, the winner is a solid conservative. In truth, this may bode well for downstream races. You have an unassuming moderate running against a shifty banker to bring the squishy Republicans out, and a downstate conservative to bring out the base. Not too bad. Unfortunately, all other state considerations seem to go against the Republicans. The State Party is one of the worst in the nation (they were, after all, the ones that all but conceded the Senate race to Obama 6 years ago), and the Dem incumbents are very well funded. Meanwhile, the question remains if the Dems will be motivated to insure no embarrassing losses in Obama’s home state. And yet, they were just as motivated to avoid embarrassment in the DNC Chair’s home state of VA in 2009, and look how that turned out.

The good news? Judging by how the primary went in downstream races, the Tea Party is rather active in Illinois. If that’s true, hopefully the grassroots enthusiasm will continue through November. I count 5 competitive House races here, with 4 of them being held by Dems.

Note: for all potentially competitive seats, I’ll include in parenthesis which of the big three issues the incumbent voted for (ST: stimulus, CT: Cap & Trade, HC: health care).

Dem held seats – 12
Safe seats – 8
1) Bobby Rush unopposed
2) Jesse Jackson Jr vs Isaac Hayes
3) Dan Lipinski vs Michael Bendas
4) Luis Gutierrez unopposed
5) Michael Quigley vs David Ratowitz
7) Danny Davis vs Mark Weiman
9) Jan Schakowsky vs Joel Pollak
12) Jerry Costello vs Teri Newman

The first six of those seats are Chicago. Yeah, guess why the Republicans can’t win there. As much fun as it would be to see Jackson Jr go down, it just isn’t going to happen; the best Isaac Hayes can hope for is to start opening a few eyes. As for the other two, IL-9 is northern Chicago suburbs, so it’s still long shot. IL-12 should conceivably be competitive. It’s only D+3, is located in the southwest corner of the state, and Bush nearly won this district in 2004. However, Costello was winning handily even in Rep years of 2002 and 2004, and Teri Newman looks like a weak candidate.

Potentially competitive seats – 2
8 ) Melissa Bean (ST, CT, HC) vs Joe Walsh
Bean barely eked out a win in 2004 and only won modestly (51-44) in 2006 in this R+1 district North of Chicago. Based on demographics, past voting history, and general trends, Walsh should do well here. So why is it off the radar for most? Well, Walsh’s fundraising isn’t that great (he raised $95k in Q1 this year and is sitting on only $46k, compared to over 1 million for Bean), which doesn’t bode well for an expensive market. He’s got the grassroots activism down (he was the Tea Party choice, beating out better funded establishment candidates), but that may not be enough to help him in this purple district (especially since he seems to have pissed off the establishment). He also appears to be having a wee bit of a campaign implosion. Combine that with the fact that he’s having personal financial problems, and the possibility remains that he just might not be a strong enough candidate. A Feb poll from We Ask America put both candidates tied at 38%, but it’s a new polling firm so I don’t know how much to trust them.

17) Phil Hare (ST,CT,HC) vs Bob Schilling
This one’s not on any of the professional lists, but a couple conservatives have a feeling about this one, and I can’t blame ’em. This is a fairly purple (yet very bizarrely shaped) district with a very liberal representative. And Schilling is a conservative, Tea Party candidate, giving the purple voters a clear dividing line. The problem? Hare won his first election (in 2006) comfortably, faced no opposition in 2008, and has $750k compared to only $110k for Schilling. And with this race on few people’s radar, he may not get much support. But a grassroots campaign might help, and maybe Brady will have coattails in this district. At the very least, that same We Ask America poll put this one at 39-32 for Hare, so there’s still an outside chance.

Competitive seats – 1
14) Bill Foster (ST, HC) vs Randy Hultgren
The Republicans lost this seat in a special election in 2006 thanks in part to some nasty infighting. Hopefully that doesn’t happen this time, as State Senator Hultgren was the compromise candidate between the nepotist Ethan Hastert and several Tea Party neophytes. With any luck, everyone’s happy with Randy. The district is slightly Republican, with an incumbent who claims to be moderate yet still voting for the health care bill. Bad news, like the rest, is that Foster’s winning the money battle, with over a million in the bank compared to only $100k. The good news is that Hultgren can still fundraise; he just needed it all for the competitive primary. As long as there’s no infighting here, Hultgren should be able to pull this one out. A poll last week by Tarrance Group (R) had Hultgren up 45-44. Sure, it’s an internal poll, but that’s a pretty good number to be at 6 months out.

Lean Takeover seats – 1
11) Debbie Halvorson (ST, CT, HC) vs Adam Kinzinger
Kinzinger is certainly well known among the Tea Party crowd, an Iraq war vet and domestic hero. He’s that wonderfully rare breed of a candidate: a solid conservative with a great personal story, can excite the grassroots, and yet is still supported by the national party. He’s facing a rubber-stamp freshman in a reddish district who had a not-so-impressive win (58-34) over an underfunded second tier last minute replacement candidate. To be blunt, I think Halvorson is a weak candidate and Kinzinger a strong one. Two polls seem to confirm this: a Kinzinger internal poll which puts him up 44-38 in March and a We Ask America poll that has him at 42-30. Sure, they’re not the most trustworthy polling organizations, but a challenger up by 6? That’s big. Yet, once again, he’s underfunded against his opponent, although his fundraising has been pretty good (hopefully he’s spending it all on infrastructure and not wasting it).

Rep held seats – 7
Safe seats – 6
6) Peter Roskam vs Ben Lowe
13) Judy Biggert vs Scott Harper
15) Tim Johnson vs David Gill
16) Don Manzullo vs George Gaulrapp
18) Aaron Schock vs D.K. Hirner
19) John Shimkus vs Tim Bagwell

Almost all these seats look purple based on their PVI, but that could be because of Obama’s home field advantage. Honestly, I don’t know much about these races, but from what I can tell none of the challengers have made much of a splash in terms of fundraising except Scott Harper in IL-13. But that’s a rematch (Biggert won 54-44 in 2008), and anyone who survived the Obama wave in 2008 should do well this time around. In any case, not even the left-wing analyses I’ve seen have any of these seats on their radar. Don’t expect any netroots or party support for these challengers given the other important races in Illinois.

Competitive seats – 1
10) Bob Dold vs Dan Seals (open)
I can’t look at this race without thinking that Bob Dold should refer to Bob Dold in the third person. In any case, Mark Kirk is vacating this seat to run for the Senate, and it’s a rather blue-ish seat (D+6, although part of that is Obama’s home field advantage; Bush lost 47-53 in 2004). It’s the third most vulnerable Rep-held seat, and it’s a tough one. Dold’s trying to walk a tightrope by appealing to the moderate squishes who kept Kirk installed even during the Obama reign while not pissing off the grassroots. Seals, meanwhile, has been a perennial candidate against Kirk and gave him a good run (losing 53-47 in both 06 and 08). So, does the fact that he’s not running against an incumbent outweigh the fact that it’s no longer a Dem year? Hard to tell. The We Ask America poll put this at Seals winning 40-37, and they’re both pretty competitive in terms of fundraising.

Final Thoughts
I saw a pattern here; promising Republican candidates are woefully underfunded. Is that a hint to everyone? Yeah, probably. But besides that, things look good. Of the 5 competitive seats, there’s only one candidate I’m not a fan of (Joe Walsh, but in all fairness I never liked the Eagles much). Hultgren looks like a reasonable politician in IL-14, Kinzinger is exciting in IL-11, and Schilling looks like a worthwhile dark house in IL-17. With the possibility of taking over both the Senate and the Governorship, hopefully Republicans and grassroot activists will be fired up throughout the state. All things considered, a pickup of 2 seats here would be nice, 1 acceptable, and a net of no gain or a loss would be a disappointment.