Illinois politicians have provided some compelling storylines this election cycle. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. faced a contentious primary battle.
Illinois — the home of the sitting president, two former governors serving prison time and a big-city mayor and former Congressman known as “Rahmbo” — has not disappointed political observers this election cycle.
Both parties in the Prairie State have seen nasty, contentious primaries for House seats. One was a Member-vs.-Member contest, and the other featured a Member facing off against a former Member. For the first time in years, the state was relevant in the GOP presidential primary, which presumptive nominee Mitt Romney won last month. Republicans are still celebrating the statewide victory of Sen. Mark Kirk, who continues to convalesce after suffering a stroke in January. And House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is hoping the road back to the majority is paved with several Illinois pickups.
“You never want for interesting politics in Illinois,” Rep. Aaron Schock said with a smile. “Between George Ryan going to prison, Rod Blagojevich going to prison, the attempted sale of [President Barack Obama’s] Senate seat — [in] my adult life, Illinois politics has always been action-packed and fascinating.”
The Republican lawmaker was heavily involved in the messy GOP primary between 10-term Rep. Don Manzullo and freshman Rep. Adam Kinzinger, encouraging financial support for the younger lawmaker. That contest caused a ruckus in the House Republican Conference and made the Democratic primary between Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. and former Rep. Debbie Halvorson — a contest defined by their antipathy toward each other — seem mild.
Indeed, lawmakers and Illinois political observers note that much of the news coming out of the state is in large part due to this year’s redistricting rumble that threw several districts into disarray. Illinois lost a seat in reapportionment, and the Democratic Legislature did its best to box out Republican gains from 2010.
“I just think that when you have redistricting and one party controls the complete redistricting process, as in the case of Illinois, and the Republicans’ failure in court, that’s what you get,” Democratic Rep. Luis Gutierrez said. “I think, really, that’s what it’s all about. The fighting for fewer seats.”
With the dust mostly settled from Illinois’ March 20 primary, Democrats hope to flip several seats as part of their goal of netting 25 seats and regaining the House majority. The party repeatedly names Reps. Robert Dold and Joe Walsh as vulnerable first-term Republicans. Five Illinois candidates have been named to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s Red to Blue program, including former Rep. Bill Foster and Iraq War veteran Tammy Duckworth, who ran unsuccessfully in 2006.
“The road to the majority goes through Illinois,” DCCC Chairman Steve Israel (N.Y.) said last month.
One election year surprise Democrats and Republicans agree on is Rep. Timothy Johnson’s retirement announcement earlier this month, just three weeks after the lawmaker cleared his primary and was poised to win another term in office in a newly redrawn, although slightly more competitive, district. The race to replace Johnson as the GOP nominee in the central Illinois district has already gotten ugly, with several accusing Johnson of orchestrating an exit to help his former chief of staff, Jerry Clarke, run in his place.
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