Race still tight in 11th district


Republican Marty Ozinga, Democratic state senate majority leader Debbie Halvorson and Green Party candidate Jason Wallace are seeking the seat being vacated by Republican Congressman Jerry Weller.

The district stretches from the south suburbs to the farming area of central Illinois. It's been a Republican stronghold. But Democratic support is growing. Vice President Dick Cheney will appear at an Ozinga fundraiser Wednesday.

National Republican leaders do not want to lose what they thought had become a stronghold. That's why Cheney is coming to town to have lunch with the party's candidate for Congress.

"When you get an opportunity to have the vice president of the United States over for lunch, it's an exciting thought," Ozinga said.

Unlike some other Republicans, Ozinga is not trying to distance himself from the Bush administration. On Wednesday, he'll welcome Cheney to a fundraiser at Ozinga's home in Homer Glen. Ozinga said he credits Bush and Cheney with protecting the country from another terrorist attack.

"After all, since 9/11, we've been free of any attacks," Ozinga said.

"Bringing dick Cheney to the district is just the wrong way to go," said Halvorson.

Halvorson says for her campaign, Cheney's appearance is one of the best things that could happen and should be, she says, bad news for Ozinga.

"To just hang out with him and try to raise money, I think just attaches him to the failed Bush policies of the last eight years," she said.

But Ozinga pointed out the 11th district, which includes the southwest suburbs and Joliet, stretches south to rural McLean County, where voters are conservative and in recent decades mostly Republican. Enter the x-factor: Green Party candidate, Iraq war veteran Wallace, who hails from downstate Hudson.

"Since I come form central Illinois and not from the suburbs of Chicago, I think that's going to appeal to the rural areas, especially since I grew up in a rural community," Wallace said.

If Ozinga's name looks familiar, you've probably seen it on the red and white trucks owned by his family's concrete company. He's a businessman who says he knows something about economic development.

"Over the 35 years of running a family business, I'm proud to have created literally thousands of jobs," Ozinga said.

Halvorson is the only 11th district candidate with a record in politics.

"Can other people distort that? Absolutely, but I've got a proven record of rolling up my sleeves and fighting across the aisle to get things done," Halvorson said.

Halvorson says she cannot depend on Barack Obama's coattails to win in the Republican-leaning 11th district.

Ozinga, a born-again Christian, is counting on support from like-minded voters. From all accounts, it is a very close race that should go down to the wire.

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