Obama affects Ill. congressional races

November 4, 2008 10:14:33 AM PST
Tuesday's election will also impact the balance of power on Congress.There are four congressional seats in the Chicago area that are currently held by Republicans who are fighting to hold on to them. Democrats are working hard to unseat them.

National Democrats say they will not be satisfied unless they win at least two of the House seats held by Republicans in the Chicago area. The Democrats are competitive in four separate districts where the GOP incumbents are feeling the pressure.

Congresswoman Judy Biggert was encouraging her phone bank troops Monday afternoon in Downer's Grove, where she's openly worried about the effect of Democrat Barack Obama on her re-election campaign.

"Some people call it the Obama tsunami, some call it other things. But there is a shift there," Biggert said.

But Biggert's Democratic opponent Scott Harper is welcoming the wave of first-time voters who support Obama and longtime DuPage County Republicans unhappy with the status quo.

"I'm seeing them say, 'We need to change. We want to vote for Barack Obama. And we'll vote for you, too,'" Harper said.

The 13th is one of four House seats from Illinois won by Republicans in 2006, that Democrats believe are vulnerable this year. The National Democratic Party is pouring money into Dan Seals' attempt to unseat Republican Mark Kirk in the 10th, and Debbie Halvorsen's effort to beat Republican newcomer Marty Ozinga in the 11th while Democrat Jill Morganthaler is trying to oust incumbent Peter Roskam in the 6th.

Tenth district incumbent Republican Mark Kirk shook hands of voters heading home to the North Shore Monday night. And if he's concerned at all about what impact Democrat Barack Obama may have on his campaign, he's not showing it.

"The last time I shared the ballot with Barack Obama, he got 70 percent of the vote in my district, I got 65," said Kirk, (R) Winnetka.

But the last time he went up against challenger Dan Seals in 2006, Kirk squeaked by with 53 percent of the vote. This time, the Democrat is hoping to ride Obama's coattails to victory. He points to the turnout for early voting as a sign of the Obama effect.

"Early voting was incredible, and I don't think these people are out here voting for more of the same. I think they've come out here for change so I'm feeling cautiously optimistic," said Seals.

More than $10 million has been raised in the 10th district, making it one of the most expensive congressional races in the country.

At Elmhurst College, political science professor Phillip Hardy says under any circumstance, it's tough to beat a sitting Congress member.

"They have all kinds of advantages, namely, one of the most important ones is money as well as name recognition," Hardy said.

To oust the incumbents, Democrats are counting on young and other newly-registered voters and some former Republicans, such as businessman Thomas Casten, a self-described fiscal conservative who says the GOP Is all talk and no action.

"The Democrats are the big spenders and the Republicans are the fiscal conservatives, the reality has become quite the opposite," Casten said.

Even in "hard-core" DuPage County, recent polls suggest Barack Obama is running neck and neck with John McCain. Candidate Biggert needs some split tickets.

"If you drive around here, you're going to see my yard signs in the same yards as Obama," Biggert said.

"There's been a mood shift. There's a sense that the Republican Party has gone too far to the right and Judy Biggert has been a supporter of that," Harper said.

The Obama effect on these Illinois congressional races is such that the Republican incumbents are longer criticizing the Democratic presidential candidate, not wanting to antagonize so many Obama voters. These are the perils that a favorite son Democratic presidential candidate poses for Republicans on the rest of the ballot.


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