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Kinzinger, Schneider Win Ill. Congressional Races

Kinzinger, Schneider Win Ill. Congressional Races

By Caitlin Huey-Burns - March 21, 2012


Two congressional primary races in Illinois -- one featuring Republicans and the other Democrats -- pitted an establishment-backed candidate against one supported by an activist wing of their respective parties. In both cases, the party machine held sway.

The most contentious of Tuesday's races took place in central Illinois, where Rep. Don Manzullo's 20-year congressional career came to an end. Freshman Congressman Adam Kinzinger defeated the veteran in the redrawn 16th Congressional District. In a surprising turn of events, it was the 67-year-old Manzullo who became the face of the Tea Party movement in the race.

On the North Shore, establishment pick Brad Schneider beat back pressure from the left, prevailing over youthful Democrat Ilya Sheyman in the 10th Congressional District. Schneider’s surprising win -- polling showed him lagging in the final days -- delivered a punch to national progressives who hoped to steer the party through this race.

The race between 10-term lawmaker Manzullo and Kinzinger (three decades his junior) exposed a divide in the GOP leadership’s strategy. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor took an unusual step two weeks ago and endorsed the 34-year-old Kinzinger, calling him a “new breed of conservative.” Cantor’s Young Guns super PAC spent over $50,000 on advertising in behalf of Kinzinger, who came to Congress with Tea Party support two years ago as Republicans took control of the House.

The endorsement angered Manzullo, who told The Hill that Cantor should step down for getting involved in the race. Ironically, Manzullo, who has spent the past two decades in Congress, racked up endorsements from groups like FreedomWorks, the American Conservative Union and the Illinois Tea Party. And Kinzinger, the fresh-faced rookie and former Air Force fighter pilot, became the poster-child for the establishment.

Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy -- who, along with Cantor and Rep. Paul Ryan, founded the Young Guns program for younger Republicans -- stayed neutral in the race. House Speaker John Boehner gave money to both candidates, though he donated to Kinzinger first.

Following Tuesday night’s results, National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions called Manzullo a “principled conservative leader in Congress” and commended his efforts to strengthen manufacturing and rein in spending. As it does in most primaries, the committee remained neutral throughout the campaign.

Kinzinger positioned himself in this race as a fresh face who represented the future of the party and painted Manzullo as a stale veteran and earmark champion. He ran ads attacking Manzullo on these grounds. Analysts had figured Kinzinger would pull out a win, given his scrappy nature and his defeat of entrenched incumbent Debbie Halverson two years ago. But the race narrowed in the final days of the campaign, and the momentum shifted to Manzullo. The veteran had a slight geographical advantage: The new district included 44 percent of his old territory and 31 percent of Kinzinger’s.

Manzullo’s loss is a tough one for him to swallow: He had never faced a competitive race before this one, and he lamented the negative tenor of the contest. Nonetheless, he fought back, running negative ads pinning Kinzinger to Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and spending in Washington. In an interview with RCP last week, Manzullo said Kinzinger had “nothing going for him” and accused him of running a “Chicago-style” campaign of attacks.

Kinzinger wasn’t the only one going after Manzullo. The Campaign for Primary Accountability, a Texas-based super PAC targeting incumbents in both parties, poured over $200,000 into the race.

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Caitlin Huey-Burns is a congressional reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at chueyburns@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @CHueyBurnsRCP.

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