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A Heated Battle For Hastert's Seat

Former Speaker Dennis Hastert's retirement from the House has sparked a combative two-person race for the Republican nomination in Illinois's 14th District special primary. Dairy company owner Jim Oberweis and State Senator Chris Lauzen have been running highly negative campaigns, The Beacon News reports, including direct mail pieces featuring "dead cows" and accusations of "dirty campaign contributions."

Just two weeks remain in this tight battle, as the special primary, as well as the primary for the November general election, will be held February 5.

Lauzen's first negative mailer referenced Oberweis's three failed campaigns--two for the Senate and one for governor--by using three cartoon cows with Xs over their eyes. It read: "Good ice cream...yes. Good candidate...No!" The mailer also accused Oberweis of FEC violations from a previous campaign.

Oberweis's recent mailers have included accusations of a scandal related to the nearly $100,000 in campaign contributions Lauzen has accepted over the last 10 years from a company currently under investigation by the Illinois attorney general's office. Lauzen's campaign has since returned the money.

On top of support from Hastert, the Chicago Tribune endorsed Oberweis last week, despite what it called a "vitriolic anti-immigration message" that the paper had criticized Oberweis for in his previous campaigns. The newspaper also cited Lauzen's 14 years in the state Senate "where he has alienated many legislators and been minimally effective."

Four Democrats, including scientist Bill Foster and 2006 Democratic nominee Jonathan Laesch, are also vying for the district, which President Bush won in 2004 with 55% of the vote. Laesch won 40% of the vote in 2006 and gave Hastert his lowest margin of victory since first being elected to the House in 1986.

The Democratic and Republican nominees will face off in a March 8 special election, the winner of which will serve out the remainder of Hastert's term, and have the early lead in the November general election race.

--Kyle Trygstad