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Illinois GOP Primary Pits Generations

Scott J. Ferrell/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger is half the age of his Illinois primary opponent, Rep. Don Manzullo (above). Still, Manzullo has a slight edge going into Tuesday's Member-vs.-Member showdown.

Manzullo runs a very traditional campaign negative attacks and all. He shakes every hand in the room before a candidate forum in Oregon, a small farming community 25 miles southwest of Rockford. He makes copious notes with a tiny blue pen on the inside of a manila folder at a DeKalb County Farm Bureau meeting.

"I think this election is probably a little bit tougher for him," said Todd Walker, the 42-year-old part-time mayor of Genoa and a Manzullo backer. "Don has done a wonderful job for this area a wonderful job for this country. There's no need to make that switch."

At a small town hall in Genoa, Manzullo proclaims that 67 is the new 47. It's so quiet in the background that you can hear the air conditioner rattle on an unseasonably warm day.

"Don't talk to me about fading away, riding off into the sunset and becoming quiet," Manzullo yells to the audience. "I'm at the peak of my career! I have the opportunity to chair the House Foreign Affairs Committee."

Youthful Advantage

When it comes to charming the over-65 crowd, it's hard to beat Kinzinger, who campaigned at several retirement and assisted-living facilities last week.

"Handsome man. I thought he was pretty good," exclaimed Carolyn McConnell, an 81-year-old retired food writer donning two shades of denim during a Kinzinger speech at Heritage Woods of DeKalb.

A couple of hours later, Kinzinger leaned in so he could speak loud enough for another silver-haired woman to hear him.

"What a nice suit," she commented, stroking his yellow tie.

This generation loves Kinzinger because he reminds them of their grandsons or at least who they wanted their grandsons to be: a fighter pilot, a Congressman and recently engaged.

Kinzinger plays up his young age, referring to growing up in the 1980s and frequently using words like "awesome" and "cool." He bumped elbows with Dave Miner, a 69-year-old retired teacher in a sweater vest, who confronted Kinzinger about his frequent robocalls.

"I've had at least three people, when I walked in today, say I look younger than 34 years old," he told the crowd. "That's good, right?"

The crowd eats it up.

"I think Adam is very honest, down to earth," said Joan Wilson, a 77-year-old retiree. "I think he means very well, and he's young, and he knows that. We had always voted for Don Manzullo, and this year, we are not."

Kinzinger barely mentions his opponent unless provoked, and his approach makes sense: It's distasteful to seem like you're insulting a grandpa.

"This is not a situation that either Don Manzullo or I want to be in," Kinzinger tells the crowd. "While I respect Don Manzullo for his years of service he and I are friends I believe we need to get away from how we've been doing business in Washington, D.C."

Personal Politics

The seething hate between Kinzinger and Manzullo proves palpable as they're forced to sit next to each other for a two-hour candidate forum in Oregon. While dozens of municipal candidates addressed the unfinished meeting hall, the two Republicans almost never made eye contact and frequently took turns leaving the room.

Then the other candidates turned on Manzullo and Kinzinger.

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