He represents a fast-growing region containing suburban Chicago sprawl, farmland and the world-famous Fermilab, or the Fermi National Accelerator Lab, which looks at high-energy particle physics. Hultgren — who takes his younger boys to bike and jog on the trails of the Fermilab campus — wants to maintain funding for the research done there.
"I just absolutely believe, as a conservative Republican, there are things that we as government should do and there are things that we shouldn't do," he said. "Basic scientific research is something that we should do. ... We don't even know what we're going to find, but if we don't do it, someone else will."
Different Paths to Washington
Hultgren said he has made friends with Republicans and Democrats, and he even counts Rep. Reid Ribble (R-Wis.) as a pal, despite Ribble being a Green Bay Packers fan. ("He rubs it in every time I see him," Hultgren said, laughing.)
Republican Rep. Judy Biggert, whose district neighbors Hultgren's, called him "hardworking" and "pretty cheery." They sit on the Science, Space and Technology Committee, and she said she has found him to be off to a quick start. "He's a Member that really knows how legislation works and knows the rules, really knows procedure," she said.
Perhaps that's because he spent years working his way up in Illinois state politics — starting with a paid internship in the office of former Speaker Dennis Hastert (R), eventually rising to be Hastert's district representative. Hultgren also served as a county board member, state House Representative and a state Senator before running for Congress.
Hultgren bested the former Speaker's son, Ethan Hastert, in a GOP primary and then narrowly unseated Rep. Bill Foster (D) with just more than 51 percent of the vote thanks to the GOP wave.
No one gave Walsh, who lost a House race in 1996 and a state House race in 1998, a chance last November. But Walsh, who lists investment banker, college instructor and nonprofit director on his résumé, defeated former Rep. Melissa Bean (D) by fewer than 300 votes.
Since he arrived, Walsh has chosen to be more independent and has pledged to serve just three terms in the House.
"It doesn't necessarily matter to me how the leadership or the establishment views me; I consider myself more of an advocate," he said.
State Democrats who drew the new Illinois map created chaos for Republicans, a crucial element of the party strategy to try to reclaim the House next year. The redistricting left Walsh and Hultgren living within the boundaries of the new 14th district in suburban Chicago.
Hultgren called the map, still tied up in the courts after a GOP lawsuit, "disappointing," but he said his team would be prepared to seek re-election against Walsh.
But when it's a Member-vs.-Member clash, the dynamics of the race become difficult to predict. Leaders often feel like they have to take sides, though the line from official Washington and the National Republican Congressional Committee is a promise of neutrality.
The men kept fairly even in third-quarter fundraising, but as of Sept. 30, Hultgren had $276,000 in cash on hand while Walsh had $466,000 in the bank. As far as the new lines go, Hultgren has the upper hand because he's represented about 40 percent of the district. Walsh has represented only about 30 percent.
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