No sooner had former House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R.-Ill.) announced he would resign from Congress before New Year’s Day than pundits from Chicago to Washington were focusing on two of the three Republicans who were already vying in the primary of Hastert’s 14th District seat.
Although eleven-termer Hastert would only say he would resign before the end of the year, longtime observers of the longest-serving GOP speaker of the House in history guessed he would time his official exit to trigger a special election primary for his district on February 5th — the same day as the Republican primary for the state.
All signs are, at this point, that the primary front-runner is State Sen. Chris Lauzen, one of the most conservative legislators in Springfield. Harvard Business School graduate Lauzen was elected to the legislature in 1992 as one of the “Fabulous Five” — the most right-of-center lawmakers who all proved to be unbossed by moderate GOP Gov. James Edgar. Lauzen and Company were unabashedly conservative on cultural and economic issues and Lauzen himself became a leader in efforts behind a property tax assessment freeze for homeowners over 65 with incomes less than $45,000.
Lauzen already has the endorsement of all of his fellow Republican senators in the district and his Senate District #25 is home to 49% of GOP primary voters in the congressional district.
Lauzen’s leading primary rival is investment banker and dairyman Jim Oberweiss, who has lost two primary races for the U.S. Senate and the ’06 primary for governor. Oberweiss, who upset the hackles of establishment GOPers by taking a hard-line on illegal immigration in his last trip to the polls, has relatively few disagreements with fellow conservative Lauzen save never holding or winning elective office before.
A survey conducted for Oberweiss by pollster John McLaughlin showed him edging Lauzen among likely primary voters by a margin of 41% to 37%. Lauzen’s own survey, done by Public Opinion Strategies, showed him tied with Oberweiss among likely primary voters, with each getting 38% of the vote. Geneva, Illinois Mayor Kevin Burns, a moderate, was in low single digits in both polls.
One interesting sidelight of the Hastert succession is that the nominee for the remaining months of the former speaker’s term will be chosen on the same day as the nominee for November ballot and the full term. (The special election to fill the remainder of Hastert’s term will probably be sometime in March.)
"So our slogan is going to be ‘Vote Twice for Oberweiss,’" his political consultant Bill Pascoe told me, adding tongue-in-cheek that "voting twice for the same candidate is an old Chicago tradition."