ROCK ISLAND, Ill. — On an unlikely battlefield, second-term Rep. Phil Hare is amassing an army.
Unions are on the front lines, but the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has also joined with money, advertising and boots on the ground. At a weekend rally in a crowded union hall with Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) sitting in the front row, Hare, a former steward for UNITE HERE, drew the battle lines.
“Organized labor is who I am, where I came from, and my opponent talks about being a member of a union,” the Democratic lawmaker said. “He talks the talk, except he doesn’t really support the Employee Free Choice Act because he says we’re taking away the right to a secret ballot.”
On the other side is a scrappier contingent. Republican Bobby Schilling, the owner of St. Giuseppe’s Heavenly Pizza in Moline and the father of 10 children, is mounting his first campaign. Early in his career, he was a steward for the United Paper Workers International Union and later a member of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union. Following an event in Quincy, where he accepted the endorsement of the National Federation of Independent Business, Schilling said his goal would be to bring labor and business together.
“The biggest thing we can do is let people know — business owners know — that we’re going to create an environment to where it’s going to be great for them to do business, rather than the environment that’s been created the last year and a half [that] has really just scared people,” he said. “People are scared.”
This is Hare’s first competitive race, and the fact that he’s in a dogfight is emblematic of the environment for Democrats. Hare wasn’t anywhere near GOP target lists at the start of the cycle, but it’s become clear over the past month that the Congressman, who was unopposed in 2008, could get swept out in the GOP wave.
Rep. Aaron Schock (R), who represents a neighboring district and appeared at a fundraiser with Schilling Monday night at a home in Quincy, underscored the importance of the battleground race.
“You’re asking yourself the question, ‘Are Republicans going to win control of the Congress?’” he said. “I guarantee you this, if Bobby Schilling becomes a Congressman from Illinois, there ain’t a doubt in anyone’s mind whether or not we win a majority in Congress. So this is battlefront central, not just for the 17th district, but for the national election cycle.”
While Schilling is a political neophyte, Hare’s background and path to Congress is steeped in politics.
Hare’s former boss, Rep. Lane Evans, announced in 2006 he would not run for re-election after he had already won the Democratic nomination. With Evans’ support, Hare lobbied local Democratic officials for the nomination. That November, he defeated Evans’ 2004 Republican opponent, broadcaster Andrea Zinga, with 57 percent of the vote.
Hare continues to benefit from his ties to Evans, who stepped down because he has Parkinson’s disease and is still loved by local Democrats. At a fundraiser in tiny Canton, Cindy Rodney, 66, said she supported Evans because he helped her brother, who was in the military.