ENPR: Hot Congressional Races in Illinois


  1. The Olympics provide a rest opportunity for both campaigns, neither of which announced a running mate. We assume the candidates have chosen their No. 2s, but they are waiting for the time they calculate will provide the best media coverage. One problem: The Democratic convention begins immediately after the Olympics end.
  2. Russia’s invasion of Georgia provided an opportunity for the candidates to show their differing foreign policy approaches. Sen. John McCain was bellicose and clear in his support of Georgia. Sen. Barack Obama was more neutral and diplomatic, at first making it sound as if both sides were equally responsible for the conflict, and equally capable of bringing about peace. It’s unlikely the candidates’ responses to this crisis will play into any voter’s decision this fall, but the reactions could foretell the foreign policy images they will put forth in the general election. Such moral ambivalence as Obama portrayed will not be a winner.
  3. By admitting his infidelity to his sick wife—and his repeated lies to the media about it—former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) ended whatever chances he had of being Obama’s running mate. More importantly, it is a disastrous blow to the labor union hopes that Obama would make Edwards his attorney general, a notion floated in January by Illinois Democrats close to Obama. Trial lawyer Edwards atop the Justice Department was a prize sought by important elements within organized labor and for conservatives one of the grimmest potential consequences of an Obama victory in November.

House 2008

Illinois-6: Rep. Peter Roskam (R) was a bright spot for Republicans—particularly for pro-life conservatives—with his slim victory in the brutal year of 2006, holding onto the seat of retired Rep. Henry Hyde (R). The 6th District, in the Southwest suburbs of Chicago, was one of the prime battlegrounds of that election, with disabled Iraq veteran Tammy Duckworth (D) drawing huge support from Democrats nationwide.

Democrats had hoped Duckworth would run again this year, but by the summer of 2007, when she was serving as the state’s veterans affairs director, she decided against a rematch. That left Roskam mostly safe. As of June 30, Roskam had outraised his opponent, Iraq veteran Jill Morganthaler (D), $1.8 million to half a million dollars.

Considering Roskam beat a better-funded top-tier candidate in 2006, it’s hard to imagine how he could lose to a lesser candidate with less money. It would take a serious Roskam error or quite a Democratic tsunami for Roskam to lose. Likely Republican Retention.

Illinois-8: Republicans have probably missed their chance to win back Rep. Phil Crane‘s (R) former district in the Northern suburbs of Chicago. Although Rep. Melissa Bean (D) will have to work hard to win a third term, she is the strong favorite.

Republican businessman Steve Greenberg (R) can’t compete with Bean’s money, or name recognition. At the end of June, Bean had a staggering 16-to-1 advantage in terms of cash-on-hand.

Nationwide, the Democratic sweep of upper-middle-class suburbia is not reversible in the forseeable future. This seat, long held by a conservative Republican, is now a Democratic seat. Leaning Democratic Retention.

Illinois-10: Rep. Mark Kirk (R) may never have an easy reelection in this wealthy North Shore suburban district. While the district has been in Republican hands since it was first drawn in its current form in 1982, it is the very model of the Democrats’ suburban takeover targets. Most households in Kirk’s district earn higher than $78,000, making the median household in Kirk’s district 62% wealthier than the median household in the U.S. The median home is worth more than $400,000—double the national median. The district is 81% white and 7.4% Asian.

While suburbs on Chicago’s Southside, such as Roskam’s district, are more working-class, and more conservative, Northside suburbs like Winnetka and Deerfield in Kirk’s district are different. To put it in overly simplified terms: White Sox fans are pro-life, while Cubs fans are not. In Kirk’s favor, he is basically a proverbial “Cubs Fan” himself, amassing a fairly moderate voting record.

After a narrow win in his first election in 2000, Kirk cruised through his 2002 and 2004 reelects before having to fight for his job in 2006. Businessman Dan Seals (D) held Kirk to 53% two years ago, and he’s come back for a rematch. While Obama will win this district, it’s hard to imagine his driving turnout any more than a presidential year normally does. Kirk as of June 30 had doubled Seals’ fundraising with an impressive $3.9 million.

While this seat will go Democratic at some point, Kirk looks fine this year. Leaning Republican Retention.

Illinois-11: The race to fill the seat of retiring Rep. Jerry Weller (R) promises to be Illinois’ hot contest of 2008. Democrats have nominated state Senate Majority Leader Debbie Halvorson (D) while Republicans, after some fits and starts, have settled on concrete-maker Martin Ozinga (R).

The district lies South of Chicago, along the Indiana border, and then runs along I-80 two-thirds of the way across the state. In recent history tilts slightly Republican, and is closer demographically to Roskam’s district than to Kirk’s. The 11th is also largely rural. All other things being equal, the Republican would have an advantage here.

But all other things are not equal. Ozinga got a late start because Republicans originally nominated New Lenox Mayor Tim Balderman (R), who quickly dropped out when his hatred of fundraising proved disqualifying. Republican committee chairman gathered, and, as parties often do when scrambling for an emergency candidate, they chose the guy with money.

Two question marks hang over Ozinga’s candidacy, and both are tied to the fact that he has donated to Democrats in Illinois: First, will conservatives, who first backed the alternatives to Ozinga, line up behind the establishment’s pick? Second, is Ozinga tainted with the corruption of Chicago Mayor Richard Daley (D) or Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D)? Republicans, sometimes in criticism and sometimes in defense, argue that Ozinga was paying political protection money—that giving to Democrats is the cost of doing business in the corrupt world of Illinois.

Ozinga’s problems don’t stop there. He’s a carpet-bagger, not really from the district, and he was hit for being late on some property taxes. Halvorson hardly has a clean record herself. She has the same political mentor as Obama: patronage politician Emil Jones, the Senate president. As chairman of the Ethics Committee, she helped block an ethics reform measure this year (aimed at limiting campaign contributions of major state contractors), but then gave up her gavel, allegedly to avoid getting heat about this during her congressional race.

With Halvorson so steeped in the Democratic establishment, and with corruption scandals, indictments, and impeachment threats plaguing both of the Democrats’ power centers (indictments of dozens of Daley aides in Chicago, and the world crashing around Blagojevich in Springfield), Ozinga is having some luck running as an outsider. “I am not a politician,” his signs, ads, and website blare. It’s almost a page out of the book of 14th District candidate Jim Oberweis (R, see below), but for Ozinga, it seems to be working.

Another question: Does Weller’s shadow hang over this district? Certainly, the outgoing incumbent has done little to ensure the district would stay in GOP hands after his retirement. Also, Weller leaves under a cloud of scandal. Ozinga’s distance from Weller is a boon.

While across the country 2008 will be bad for Republicans, and while Illinois’s favorite son, Barack Obama, is atop the ballot this fall, Election Day in Illinois could prove to be a GOP triumph. Ozinga’s race might be the bellwether for the state. Early poll numbers are encouraging for Halvorson, though. Keep an eye on this one. Leaning Democratic Takeover.

Illinois-14: The 14th District of Illinois is emblematic of Republicans’ national problems. Four-term U.S. Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), after years of failed GOP promises about limiting government and curbing spending, resigned early, apparently in order to advance his lobbying career.

Dairy millionaire Jim Oberweis (R) came out overconfident after a bitter GOP primary, and lost the special election this spring to liberal scientist Bill Foster (D). The question now is: Can Oberweis rebound and beat Congressman Foster in November?

This is Oberweis’s fifth try for elected office, after losing primaries for U.S. Senate twice, for governor once, and losing the special election March. He has near total name recognition in the district, thanks in part to his company’s ice cream. Given this high profile, his effort to remake his image by November is a tall order.

Oberweis’s first step is patch things up with other Republicans in his district. Namely, his scorched-earth primary victory over state Sen. Chris Lauzen (R) has left Lauzen bitter and many Republican activists turned off. While the Lauzen backers who stayed home from the special election will show up in November, Oberweis won’t have access to many of the phone-bankers and door-knockers that this district otherwise could provide.

Foster, meanwhile, scored a coup by winning increased federal funding for the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in the district.

Until Oberweis shows he is successfully remaking his image, Foster is the strong favorite. Leaning Democratic Retention.

Illinois-18: State Rep. Aaron Schock (R) is in line to replace retiring Rep. Ray LaHood (R). The 27-year-old phenom has heavily outraised former TV reporter Colleen Callahan (D), and massively outspent her. A hustling politician and a conservative farm boy in a conservative rural district, Schock would need to make a major misstep in order to lose here. Likely Republican Retention.

Recent Results

Colorado-2: Multimillionaire Jared Polis (D) spent $3.7 million of his money, and he beat out former Senate President Joan Fitz-Gerald (D) in Tuesday’s primary. Polis, liberal and openly gay, is the heavy favorite over Republican nominee Scott Starin to succeed Rep. Mark Udall (D), who is running for Senate. Likely Democratic Retention.

Colorado-6: In the Republican primary to succeed retiring Rep. Tom Tancredo (R), Secretary of State Mike Coffman (R) beat out Wil Armstrong (R), son of former Sen. Bill Armstrong (R). Coffman is the favorite over Democratic candidate Hang Eng (D). Likely Republican Retention.

Tennessee-1: Freshman Rep. David Davis (R) had not conceded as of press time, but he appears to have lost his primary to Johnson City Mayor Phil Roe (R).

In 2006, after the retirement of Rep. Bill Jenkins (R) in this solidly Republican district in the Northeastern corner of the state, Davis won a 13-way primary with 22%, beating out the second-place finisher by 573 votes, less than one percent of all votes cast. Although Roe finished fourth in that contest, he was convinced he could beat Davis one-on-one.

Self-financing nearly half of the campaign, Roe hit Davis for taking campaign contributions from oil companies raking in large profits while drivers are suffering to fill their gas tanks—the very same tack being used by Democrats around the country, including Obama. Unofficial returns show a 486-vote victory by Roe.

Davis is the fourth incumbent congressman to lose re-nomination bids this year, and the third Republican. He is also the first sitting Tennessee congressman to lose a primary since the 1960s.

Roe was an army medic and is a retired obstetrician. He will be safe in this district held by Republicans for more than a century. Likely Republican Retention.

Tennessee-7: Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R) had to fight for it, but she won her primary by a comfortable margin last Thursday over Shelby County Register Tom Leatherwood (R). Leatherwood, a conservative like Blackburn, attacked the incumbent on charges of corruption, citing the profitable lobbying career of her son-in-law. Leatherwood won the endorsement of the Memphis Commercial Appeal and Gun Owners of America.

Blackburn, however, outspent Leatherwood nearly 10 to 1 and garnered 62% of the vote, including 89% of the vote in populous Williamson County. She will be safe in November. Likely Republican Retention.

Tennessee-9: Freshman Rep. Steve Cohen (D) easily fended off a primary challenge in this Memphis district.

In 2006, to fill the seat left open by Rep. Harold Ford’s (D) run for U.S. Senate, Cohen, who is white, won the 15-way primary with 31% of the vote. The 11 black candidates that year combined for 67% of the vote in a district that is 63% black.

Unsurprisingly, Cohen received a challenge this year from black attorney Nikki Turner (D), who two years ago finished second behind Cohen with 25% of the vote. She challenged Cohen more or less head-on this year. In a five-way primary in which Turner and Cohen were the only candidates with decent financing, Cohen thrashed Turner 79% to 19%. Cohen will be safe in November. Likely Democratic Retention.

PUBLISHER’S NOTE: Due to his recently diagnosed brain tumor, Bob Novak has retired from his column and also from his role as editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report. Novak has edited ENPR since he and Rowland Evans launched it in 1967.


Per the succession plan we worked out last summer with Bob, Eagle Publishing will continue to publish ENPR under the leadership of Senior Reporter Timothy P. Carney, a protégé of Bob’s who has worked by his side for years. In his 2007 memoirs, The Prince of Darkness, Novak described Carney as “maybe my best political reporter since I began hiring them in 1982.” Carney is also a contributing editor at Human Events and a weekly columnist for the Washington Examiner.