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Hastert Seat Brews Optimism

After a nasty Republican primary to replace House Speaker Dennis Hastert and a closer than expected race on the Democratic side, both parties claim optimism in the battle for the seat, which extends from suburban Chicago west to the state's border. The two winning candidates will face off both in a March 8 special election to replace Hastert and in November, for a new two-year term.

A new poll, conducted for scientist and businessman Bill Foster, the Democratic nominee, shows a tight race. Conducted by Global Strategies Group, a Democratic polling firm, the survey interviewed 525 likely voters between February 6-10, for a margin of error of 4.3%. Foster and businessman Jim Oberweis, the Republican nominee, were tested.

General Election Matchup
Oberweis 45
Foster 43

Opinions of President Bush run poorly in the district, as 60% say they have an unfavorable impression of the commander in chief. That, as well as Oberweis' association with Hastert, is an opening Democrats hope to exploit. Republicans, though, say that will be an ineffective line of argument. Too, Republicans point out problems with the poll, including that the sample included weekend days, which skews a sample, and that party identification breakdowns were not included in the release.

The GOP also points to the fact that more Republicans turned out in the state's February 5 primary than Democrats, despite the fact that native son Barack Obama headed the ballot. "It was a perfect storm for the Democrats," said one source close to the Oberweis campaign. "Obama's not on the ballot on March 8," another GOP source crowed.

Both candidates came through a difficult primary. Oberweis won an expensive and at times personal battle with State Senator Chris Lauzen, while Foster barely won a surprisingly close battle with an underfunded opponent who had run against Hastert in 2006. Both nominees spent heavily from their own wallets, though Foster spent more. The Oberweis campaign indicated it expected to spend another $1 to $2 million on the March special election, and Foster is expected to spend heavily as well.

DCCC and the NRCC spokespeople refused to comment on whether the two committees would target the district with independent expenditures, though a source at the DCCC said that while no decision had been finalized, the party is likely to wade in. Oberweis attended a meeting of the House Republican conference this morning, at which NRCC chairman Tom Cole urged fellow Republicans to help fund his campaign.

Foster and Oberweis will spend most of this year going head to head, both in person and over the airwaves. Given the personal nature of the primary, the race could end up as one of the most heated in the country.