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Democrats Gain in Michigan and Ohio

As thousands of Chicagoans cheered the resounding victory of hometown son and now President-elect Obama on Tuesday night, Illinois Democrats were also celebrating the pickup of one House seat with the landslide election of state Senate Majority Leader Debbie Halvorson (D).

Halvorson won the seat held for seven terms by retiring Rep. Jerry Weller (R), who enjoyed easy re-election races in the swing 11th district, which stretches from the southwestern Chicago suburbs to Bloomington. Halvorson, a polished pol who has represented part of the Congressional district during her 10 years in the state Senate, beat out political newcomer Martin Ozinga (R) 58 percent to 35 percent.

Halvorson’s election comes just eight months after Democrats picked up the seat once held by former Speaker Dennis Hastert (R), whose retirement in March paved the way for the victory of now-Rep. Bill Foster (D) over dairy magnate Jim Oberweis (R). The general election rematch between the two candidates proved less exciting than the special election, and Foster coasted to his first full term 57 percent to 43 percent.

Overall in the Midwest, three incumbents lost re-election and Democrats managed to squeeze a five-seat pickup out of the region. Democrats gained two seats each in Michigan and Ohio, in addition to the one in Illinois. All of those races were targeted by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s “Red to Blue” program.

Democrats stand to possibly gain one more pickup in the region, as the results of the open-seat contest in Ohio’s 15th district were unclear as of press time. Republicans are ahead in the race, but there are still a couple thousand votes to be counted.

There were, however, a few bright spots for the Illinois GOP on an otherwise big night for Democrats.

Rep. Mark Kirk (R), a four-term moderate from the Chicago suburbs, increased his winning percentage in his rematch against Democratic challenger Dan Seals. Kirk was able to stave off defeat despite his opponent’s attempt to tie the Republican to the unpopular Bush administration. He was re-elected to a fifth term 54 percent to 46 percent, slightly up from his 53-47 victory in 2006.

In the Peoria-based 18th district, 27-year-old state Rep. Aaron Schock (R) won 59 percent to 38 percent over one-time newscaster Colleen Callahan (D), becoming the youngest Member of the 111th Congress and the first born during Ronald Reagan’s presidency. Schock will succeed retiring Rep. Ray LaHood (R).

Not one Illinois incumbent lost Tuesday night. In the northwest suburban 8th district, voters re-elected perennial target Rep. Melissa Bean (D) 60 percent to 40 percent, her largest winning margin yet. And freshman Rep. Peter Roskam (R), of Chicago’s near-west suburban 6th district, earned a second term with 58 percent of the vote.

But two Republican incumbents perished in Michigan, after both were heavily targeted for defeat by national Democrats.

Freshman Rep. Tim Walberg (R), who eked out a victory in 2006 against an underfunded Democratic challenger, lost his reelection bid to state Sen. Mark Schauer (D). While the 7th district in southern Michigan leans Republican, Schauer proved to be a formidable candidate, and, with more than $2 million raised, a well-funded one.

In Michigan’s more affluent 9th district, a swing seat that President Bush won by just 6,000 votes in 2004, eight-term Rep. Joe Knollenberg (R) lost to former state Lottery Commissioner Gary Peters (D). Knollenberg had a close race in 2006, and with increased Democratic turnout this year, the Republican could only garner 43 percent of the vote, compared to Peters’ decisive 52 percent.

Democrats also had a two-seat pickup in the battleground Buckeye State. In Cincinnati’s 1st district, where the population is one-quarter African-American, state Rep. Steve Driehaus (D) celebrated a 52 percent to 48 percent win over Rep. Steve Chabot (R), a seven-term lawmaker who has grown increasingly vulnerable in recent cycles.

In the 16th district, where Rep. Ralph Regula (R) is retiring, Democratic state Sen. John Boccieri, a military reservist, beat fellow state Sen. Kirk Schuring (R) by an 8-point margin.

The verdict in the Columbus-based 15th district, long held by retiring Rep. Deborah Pryce (R), appears to still be out. Pryce narrowly escaped defeat in her 2006 race against Franklin County Commissioner Mary Jo Kilroy (D), and Kilroy had her sights set on winning the open seat this year.

As of press time, state Sen. Steve Strivers (R) was ahead of Kilroy, up 12,500 votes — but the race had not been called.

Elsewhere, perennial target Rep. Jean Schmidt (R), won her contest in the Cincinnati- based 2nd district 45 percent to 37 percent.

All Indiana incumbents proved safe on election night, despite the state flipping to the Democratic column in the presidential election.

Two Hoosier districts — the 8th and the 9th — have long been known for hard-fought Congressional battles, but this year’s contests were not squeakers. In the fourth rematch between Rep. Baron Hill (D) and former Rep. Mike Sodrel (R), Hill earned a resounding 58 percent of the vote, a big increase from the 50 percent he got in 2006. Sodrel garnered 39 percent this cycle.

Hill now returns to Washington for a second-consecutive term, and a fifth term overall. He lost to Sodrel by 1,425 votes in 2004.

In the district affectionately dubbed the “Bloody Eighth” in southwestern Indiana, Rep. Brad Ellsworth (D) coasted to a second term against a lightweight candidate, university lobbyist Greg Goode (R).

Rep. Mark Souder (R), whose Fort Wayne-based 3rd district would in most years be considered reliably Republican, grew increasingly vulnerable closer to Election Day and found himself a late-breaking DCCC target. But Mike Montagano’s (D) campaign never really materialized, and Souder earned an eighth term by a 15-point margin of victory.

Many eyes were turned to Minnesota on Tuesday as Sen. Norm Coleman (R) waged a closely fought battle with Democratic challenger Al Franken. At press time, the race was too close to call even though Coleman had a very narrow lead. The race will now go to an automatic recount.

In the House, Republicans had a good night, holding all of their seats in the Gopher State.

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R), who suddenly became more vulnerable after making controversial remarks during a television interview, succeeded in winning a second term in the 6th district. Bachmann aired a television ad addressing the gaffe in the final week of the campaign, telling voters, “I may not always get my words right, but I know that my heart is right.” Voters answered the plea, and elected Bachmann to a second term 46 percent to 44 percent against former state Transportation Commissioner El Tinklenberg (D).

State Rep. Erik Paulsen (R) won his campaign against Iraq War veteran Ashwin Madia (D) to keep the 3rd district seat safely in Republican hands, despite hard-fought Democratic efforts to take over the suburban Twin Cities district. Paulsen, who won the race 48 percent to 41 percent, will succeed retiring Rep. Jim Ramstad (R), who is stepping down after nine terms.

Rep. Tim Walz (D), who only seemed vulnerable because of his first-term status, also won re-election with 63 percent of the vote. Fellow freshman Democratic Rep. Steve Kagan of Wisconsin also coasted to a second term, winning his Appleton-based seat easily.

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