Illinois Primaries for Hultgren, Dold

It’s about 1:35 AM, and it is still up in the air over who the Democratic and Republican nominees for governor of Illinois will be.  But with most of the other races decided in the first-in-the-nation primary of 2010, conservative can be proud of some things.

In what was by far the most-watched U.S. House primary in the Prairie State, conservative State Sen. Randy Hultgren won the Republican nod for Congress in the 14th District over Ethan Hastert, 31-year-old attorney and son of former House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill).  Outspent by 2-to-1 and facing the son of the district’s Republican congressman from 1986-2008, Hultgren seemed the underdog.  Young Hastert was the beneficiary of his father’s widespread political contacts, which brought in batches of out-of-state money and a campaign appearance on his behalf by Newt Gingrich. 

But it wasn’t enough to stop Hultgren’s “shoe leather” and grass-roots appeal.  In a classic campaign run out of a storefront headquarters, the legislator mobilized gun owners (the NRA was for him), traditional conservatives, and newer foot soldiers in the tea party movement. Hultgren rolled up 55% of the vote and is now at least even money to unseat Democrat Bill Foster, who won the special election for the seat after the elder Hastert resigned in ’08.

In the suburban Chicago 10th District that Republican Rep. Mark Kirk relinquished to run for the Senate, the smart money had been on liberal State Rep. Beth Coulson to win the four -candidate GOP primary to succeed him.  But where Kirk is a moderate, Coulson is an out-and-out liberal who voted for tax increases, was pro-abortion, had backed trial lawyers, and had been supported by ACORN and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).  That was too much for primary voters and the nomination to succeed Kirk instead went to attorney Robert Dold, onetime chief investigative counsel for the House Government Reform Committee.  Dold, who now faces Democrat Dan Seals (who lost to Kirk in ’06 and ’08) is considered more conservative than Coulson or Kirk.

“And you have to wonder if some voters thought ‘Bob Dold’ was ‘Bob Dole’”, one veteran Chicago political consultant told me with a straight face.

To no one’s surprise, Air National Guard Reserve Capt. Adam Kinzinger won the GOP nod in the 11th District (Will County) to oppose freshman Democratic Rep. Debbie Halvorson.  A strong conservative, Kinzinger has hit hard at the incumbent for her support of stimulus packages and, in a district that was Republican from 1994 until ’08, this is a prime opportunity for a GOP pickup.

If I didn’t mention Senate nominee Kirk first, it’s because, well, his nomination is incongruous with the House wins by conservatives.  Having sponsored hate crimes legislation and taken a pro-abortion stand, the 50-year-old Kirk is no conservative.  But the congressman can at least see where the wind is blowing on some issues:  having taken brickbats from his colleagues for being the lone GOP House Member from Illinois to vote for cap and trade legislation, Kirk said during the Senate primary that he had since realized that the measure would cause major harm to the manufacturing industry and , if elected, he would never vote for cap and trade again.

Kirk is now in a strong position to defeat State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulis, a 32-year-old scion of a prominent banking family and close friend of Barack Obama, who held the Senate seat until last year.  The worst-kept political secret in Chicago is that Obama did not want his friend Alexi to be the Senate nominee and instead encouraged a race by State Attorney General Lisa Madigan, who declined to run.

Overall, Kirk’s nomination and the uncertainty of the Republican gubernatorial nod mean it wasn’t a sweep for conservatives in Illinois.  But, there is certainly a lot conservatives can be proud of in Illinois last night — and a lot they can look forward to in November.