One week after a disappointing loss in the closely watched Florida special election , national Democrats expect brighter news from the top race to watch in Tuesday's primaries in Illinois, where the party hopes to cut into Republicans' House majority.
In one of Democrats' top targeted districts in the country, Ann Callis is likely to prevail in the 13th District Democratic primary. That would set up a competitive race against freshman Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., in a swing district that stretches across the state.
Davis' primary challenge from a former Miss America has received far more national press. But it's Callis, a former Madison County judge and top recruit of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, who has had the bumpier ride to the nomination — and Republicans believe she will emerge weakened for the general.
Illinois is the second state to host primaries for the 2014 midterms. But among the various federal races on Tuesday, including the GOP primary to take on Democratic Sen. Richard J. Durbin, the 13th features nomination fights with the greatest impact on the general elections in November. The DCCC plucked Callis for the race early on and recently named her to its Red to Blue program, which identifies the party's strongest candidates in the cycle's most competitive races . The party is banking on Callis to give Davis a run for his money in a district that President Barack Obama and GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney each received 49 percent of the vote in 2012. After a 1-point win by Davis last cycle, the seat is again hosting one of the marquee House contests.
First, though, Callis faces physics professor George Gollin on Tuesday. While Republican and Democratic operatives alike predict Callis will earn the Democratic nod, some say the primary did her no favors in a race that was always going to be an uphill climb in November.
Gollin forced Callis to spend significant resources for the primary, including $96,000 on TV, according to a source tracking media buys. Callis has raised more than $800,000 so far and had $449,000 in cash on hand with less than two weeks to go in the primary.
Callis was actually outspent on the airwaves by Gollin, who dropped $122,000 on district-wide TV advertising, according to the same source. Gollin has also notably received endorsements from a handful of newspapers in the district, plus the Chicago Tribune, which all hit Callis for a lack of depth or candor regarding where she stands on the issues.
Should Callis win Tuesday, Republicans are almost certain to use those non-endorsements against her as the cycle progresses.
“The fact is that she’s not doing herself any favors with the press corps out there,” said one national GOP source. “I think a lot of these quotes given by editorial boards are going to come back and haunt her.”
As for Davis’s primary challenge from Harold — the 2003 Miss America — her bid never truly got off the ground. Davis is expected to cruise to victory Tuesday with much of his $1.1 million war chest intact.
To be sure, Illinois’ early primary gives Callis ample time to refill her coffers before November. The DCCC, which is squarely behind Callis, is unconcerned about the primary, which it believes won't have an impact on her odds in the general.
Along with the DCCC, Callis will also have help from groups such as EMILY’s List, which supports female, Democratic candidates who support abortion rights through fundraising and ground-game help. That group has already funneled $115,000 to her campaign, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission. Callis will need that support against Davis and GOP-aligned outside groups likely to expend resources on the district.
There are two other competitive primaries to watch Tuesday, though they are unlikely to affect the outcome of the general-election contests in November.
In Illinois’ 11th District, four Republicans are vying for the chance to take on Democratic Rep. Bill Foster in November: state Rep. Darlene Senger, businessman Bert Miller, Grundy County Board Member Chris Balkema and radio show host Ian Bayne. Whoever emerges will have an uphill battle to oust Foster in a district Obama won by 17 points in 2012.
Back vying for Senate is dairy magnate Jim Oberweis. Since 2002, Oberweis has run two failed bids for Senate, two unsuccessful House bids and a failed race for governor before finally winning a seat in the state Senate in 2012. He faces Army veteran Doug Truax in a primary contest to determine who will face Durbin, whose re-election bid for a fourth term is rated Safe Democratic by Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call.
Republicans are targeting the 10th and 17th districts as well, but their nominees are already decided. Both races will feature rematches: Rep. Brad Schneider, D-Ill., versus former GOP Rep. Robert Dold in the 10th, and Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., versus former Rep. Bobby Schilling in the 17th.
Polls close in Illinois at 8 p.m. Eastern.