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Illinois Selects Cong Nominees

Illinois voters cast ballots for more than just the presidential race Tuesday night when they kicked off the first Congressional primary balloting of the 2008 season.

Democratic Rep. Dan Lipinski survived another primary challenge in the 3rd District. After succeeding his father, Bill Lipinski, in this Cook County district in 2004, Lipinski has faced challenges from the left in the last two Democratic primaries.

This year, Lipinski defeated well-financed, yet splintered competition. Attorney Mark Pera outspent Lipinski 3-to-1, but with two other challengers taking votes, he was unable to keep up with Lipinski, who won with 53%. Lipinski will likely not worry as much about the general election after winning in 2006 with 77%.

The 3rd District primary was far from the only competitive race on February 5.

In the competitive and expensive Republican special primary race for former Speaker Dennis Hastert's 14th District seat, dairy magnate Jim Oberweis rode his personal bank account and Hastert's endorsement to a 56%-44% victory over State Senator Chris Lauzen. Oberweis also had some help from Lauzen, who made some critical errors during the campaign, including accepting -- and then returning -- some $100,000 from a company under investigation from the Illinois attorney general's office. This, as well as Lauzen using his status to secure Rose Bowl tickets, allowed Oberweis to use the corruption card and make it stick. Lauzen's criticism of Hastert did not help his cause either.

Oberweis will take on scientist Bill Foster in the March 8 special general election, the winner of which will serve the remainder of Hastert's term in the 110th Congress. Despite being the favorite of Washington Democrats, and enjoying a massive financial edge, Foster won a close race on the Democratic side, winning 49%-43% over John Laesch, the 2006 Democratic nominee for the seat.

Oberweis and Foster also won their parties' primaries to run in November's general election, though Foster's margin over Laesch was less than a point. Oberweis is the favorite here, as President Bush won the district with 55% in 2004. Still, the DCCC pointed to strong voter turnout as a reason to be excited. "Illinois Republicans chose to stay home rather than vote in a divisive primary while Illinois Democrats and Independents turned out in record numbers to stand for change in former Speaker Hastert's Republican leaning district," DCCC spokesman Ryan Rudominer said.

Elsewhere, State Rep. Aaron Schock won the Republican primary in the 18th District, which Rep. Ray LaHood will vacate at the end of the year. Schock, well-financed and a party favorite, won 72% of the vote against two big-spending competitors. After a late withdrawal, Democrats have yet to find a candidate to face Schock in November.

In the 11th District, where Rep. Jerry Weller is stepping down after his 7th term in office, Tim Baldermann, the New Lenox mayor and Chicago Ridge police chief, was the favorite going in to yesterday's primary, and came out with a 62% victory.

Baldermann will face a more challenging race in the general election against State Senator Debbie Halvorson, who faced no primary challenge and has $400,000 cash on hand. This district has already been selected for the DCCC's Red-to-Blue program, which financially supports viable Democratic candidates running for a Republican seat.

Two incumbents who could face a competitive general election include Democratic Rep. Melissa Bean and Republican Rep. Mark Kirk. Bean's district gave Bush 56% in 2004, and Bean garnered just 51% in 2006 against an opponent who spent more than $5 million. She will face Republican businessman Steve Greenberg, who spent close to $350,000 in the Republican primary, and will likely receive financial support from the NRCC.

"Republicans are well positioned to retain not only our open seats in Illinois," NRCC spokesperson Ken Spain said, "but we are prepared to be on the offensive against Melissa Bean in the fall." National Democrats also felt good about their prospects in the 11th and 14th districts, and liked their chances against Kirk in the 10th District as well.

Kirk won by just 6 points in 2006, despite outspending his Democratic opponent Dan Seals by about 2-to-1. Seals easily won the Democratic primary yesterday for the chance to take on Kirk again in November. The district gave John Kerry 53% of the vote in 2004, and if Seals can continue to raise money, his name recognition from the last election may be enough to make this race even closer than in 2006.

-- Kyle Trygstad