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Democrats Make a Play for Hastert Seat

It would be difficult to find a Republican, or Democrat, in Washington, D.C., or Illinois who thinks former Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) will seek a 12th term next year.

Even with the tantalizing prospect of an open seat dangling in front of both parties, Democrats seem to be the only ones mobilizing.

“I think it speaks to the real appetite for change in the district and the frustration on the part of voters that not much is being done in Washington,” said Thomas Bowen, campaign manager for physicist Bill Foster (D).

Foster already has a team in place, dropped his first mailing and declared this week that he intends to spend $1 million of his own money to secure the 14th district Democratic nomination and another $1 million if he makes it to the general election. But he will not have the Democratic field to himself.

St. Charles attorney Jotham Stein began his campaign in January. John Laesch, the little-known candidate who took 40 percent of the vote against Hastert last year, intends to try again. And state Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia (D) has formed an exploratory committee.

Interested Republicans are hamstrung until Hastert announces his departure from Congress, which is expected no later than mid-August. Hastert aides have said the man who holds the longevity record for Republican Speakers will make his plans known before Congress adjourns for the August recess.

Geneva Mayor Kevin Burns established an exploratory committee. He is expected to be joined in the GOP race by state Sen. Chris Lauzen and Jim Oberweis, the wealthy dairy owner who has run unsuccessfully for Senate and governor.

According to knowledgeable Republicans, state Rep. Tim Schmitz, a favorite of many Hastert allies, now seems unlikely to run.

Officials at the National Republican Congressional Committee say the suburban Chicago district will stay in GOP hands regardless of who their nominee is. The 14th, with its Kane County population base, gave President Bush 55 percent of the 2004 presidential vote, 11 points better than he did statewide.

But Democrats say the district slowly has become more Democratic. Given the Prairie State’s preference for Democratic presidential candidates and the possibility that Illinois’ own Sen. Barack Obama could be the Democratic nominee, Democrats like their chances.

“Whether Dennis Hastert retires or not, there is a strong appetite for change in Illinois and the environment is only going to get worse for the GOP in 2008,” said Ryan Rudominer, a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman.

As for Foster’s resources and early push, NRCC spokesman Ken Spain retorted: “He will need every red cent he can get his hands on because this is a safe Republican district.”

Foster, who has spent the last six months working as a fellow for freshman Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.), made his money early.

At just 19, Foster and his brother started making lights for use in theatres, rock concerts, school plays and the like. His 24 percent stake in what is now known as Electronic Theatre Controls Inc. is worth between $5 million and $25 million, according to his personal financial disclosure report.

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