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RealClearPolitics Politics Nation Blog

 

Blog Home Page --> House -- Illinois -- 18

Previewing IL Primaries

While the country's attention tomorrow will be focused on the more than 20 presidential primaries, the first congressional primaries of the 2008 season will also take place in the Land of Lincoln. With three open seats, including a special election to fill the remainder of former Republican Speaker Dennis Hastert's term, the Illinois primaries will initiate some long, competitive general election races.

Republican Rep. Jerry Weller, stepping down from his 11th District seat, won just 55% last year despite a large fundraising advantage. Democrats are targeting this seat and have a candidate they like in State Senate Majority Leader Debbie Halvorson, who has close to $400,000 in her campaign treasury and is unopposed in the primary.

The favorite on the Republican side is Tim Baldermann, New Lenox mayor and Chicago Ridge police chief. He's raised more than $100,000 so far, and is being opposed in the primary by Terry Heenan and Jimmy Lee, the latter of which has outspent Baldermann but badly trails in cash on hand. The winner of the GOP primary will need plenty of financial support for the general election, as Halvorson has already made the DCCC's Red-to-Blue list, which promises generous fundraising support.

The special primary for Hastert's seat has been hotly contested on the GOP side, as we've reported earlier. The GOP and Democratic winners of the special primary will face off March 8 to fill the remainder of Hastert's term. They will likely be the same winners of the coinciding primary for the party nominations for the November general election, meaning the excitement from the special election will likely carry on through the next 10 months.

Dairy magnate Jim Oberweis is the front-runner on the GOP side. Having devoted a large amount of his own resources to the campaign, and having entered the race after running for office before, Oberweis owns a hefty head start in both name recognition and ad spending. What he might lack to State Senator Chris Lauzen, his chief opponent, in an established organization is made up with help from Hastert, who is backing Oberweis. Democrats are enthusiastic about Bill Foster, a scientist independently wealthy enough to stay financially competitive with Oberweis in a general.

Due to former basketball coach Dick Versace's precipitous exit from the race, there will be no Democrats on the ticket in Illinois's 18th District primary. The party will choose its nominee after February 5. So the only excitement will be on the GOP side, as three Republicans are spending big as they vie for the chance to succeed Rep. Ray LaHood, who's stepping down at the end of the year.

State Rep. Aaron Schock has spent more than $500,000 on the race. He's being opposed by television executive John Morris and Heartland Partnership CEO Jim McConoughey, who have both spent at least $250,000. Schock is expected to make it through the primary.

One incumbent tomorrow faces yet another difficult primary challenge. In Cook County's 3rd District, Rep. Daniel Lipinski's moderate record and what opponents call blatant nepotism makes him a biennial target in the primary. Three Democrats are giving serious challenge to the 2-term incumbent.

Mark Pera, a local high school board president, has outspent Lipinski by close to a 3-to-1 margin, and outraised him by more than $150,000. Pera's chances are probably the best against Lipinski, but Palos Hills Mayor Jerry Bennett has spent more than $150,000, and Army Lt. Col. Jim Capparelli dispersed about $85,000. The presence of the two other candidates could hurt Pera, an attorney, in his bid to knock off Lipinski, who four years ago became the Democratic nominee when his father, a long-time incumbent, dropped out at the last minute. The winner of the Democratic primary will be heavily favored in the general election.


-- Kyle Trygstad

Versace Out In IL-18

Dick Versace, a former NBA and Bradley University basketball coach, unexpectedly announced he will not run for retiring GOP Rep. Ray LaHood's Illinois District. Versace, the only Democrat in the race so far, now leaves the party without a candidate.

"Due to unforeseen personal circumstances, I am announcing my withdrawal as a Democratic candidate for the congressional seat in this district," said Versace, in a released statement. "I thank everyone for their support and encouragement in this race, and I ask that you please respect my privacy and that of my family as we face this difficult personal issue."

Versace would have faced a difficult run for the open seat, as President Bush won the district in 2004 with 58%. Three Republicans - state Rep. Aaron Schock, television executive John Morris and Heartland Partnership CEO Jim McConoughey - are competing in the Republican primary.

Still, Democrats had hope that Versace, with a bit of star power behind him, could have stolen the district in 2008. The party won several seats in 2006 that boasted bigger Republican advantages than the GOP enjoys in the 18th. National Republicans have to be relieved that a threat to one of their seats seems to have evaporated. "With three strong Republican challengers running for the nomination, we believe that we remain in a good position to retain the seat," NRCC spokesman Ken Spain said.

State parties can file a candidate if no one announces a bid before filing day, an Illinois Democratic Party spokesman said.

-- Kyle Trygstad and Reid Wilson