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Dems Win Hastert Seat

In a development sure to further rattle the already shaken House Republican caucus, voters in Illinois' exurban Fourteenth District voted yesterday to replace Dennis Hastert, the longest-serving Republican Speaker in the country's history, with a Democrat. With all but four precincts reporting, physicist and businessman Bill Foster leads businessman Jim Oberweis, the Republican, 52%-48%, the AP reported.

The race had turned nasty and personal in recent weeks, with charges and counter-charges from both campaigns and with more than $2.2 million in spending from both national Democratic and Republican campaign committees. Both candidates also spent millions of their own money on the race, with Oberweis dropping more than $2 million and Foster topping $1 million.

Two of the three remaining presidential candidates got involved as well, with John McCain stopping by for an Oberweis fundraiser and Barack Obama cutting an advertisement with Foster, which the Democrat ran through the special election's closing days.

Foster and Oberweis each won two elections on February 5, when they took their respective party's nominations: The two won the right to carry their party's banners in yesterday's special election as well as in the November contest which will determine who represents the district in the 111th Congress.

In November, while Oberweis will have the added advantage of higher turnout in a normally Republican district in a presidential year, Foster could also benefit from those turning out to vote for home-stater Obama. Foster will also head into the rematch with the advantage of incumbency.

Foster's victory is a huge morale boost to national Democrats, many of whom hailed the win as a harbinger. "Foster's victory in the seat that was held by Speaker Hastert sends a political shock wave across America this election year," DCCC chair Chris Van Hollen said in a statement. "Bill Foster's election is the shot of change heard around the world," caucus chair Rahm Emanuel said.

National Republicans downplayed the defeat. The NRCC's new communications director, Karen Hanretty, shrugged off the notion that the seat is indicative of a larger trend. "The Democratic candidates [for president] are trading election victories from week to week and the nomination could hinge on a few news cycles," Hanretty said in her own statement. "The one message coming out of 2008 so far is that what happens today is not a bellwether of what happens this fall."

Still, one of Republicans' biggest wins in 1994 took place in Eastern Washington State, where then-House Speaker Tom Foley was ousted by Republican George Nethercutt. Foley was one of dozens of House Democrats to lose that year as Republicans swept back to power. Even after Democrats took charge, the fact that they were able to steal the former Speaker's heavily-Republican district will suggest that voters are not finished taking out their anger on the GOP.