Midwest

Illinois Is Ground Zero in Battle for the Senate; Parties Have Hard-to-Predict Primaries in March

Posted November 7, 2003 at 8:56am

Illinois

Filing deadline: Dec. 15, 2003
Primary: March 16

Senate

Open seat: Peter Fitzgerald (R) is retiring
Outlook: Leans Democratic
Even before Fitzgerald announced that he would not seek a second term, this was expected to be one of the most hotly contested Senate races of 2004.

But with or without Fitzgerald in the race, this remains Democrats’ best pick-up opportunity of the cycle. The state has trended more and more Democratic in recent years, culminating in the party’s virtual sweep of statewide offices last year. Al Gore won the state by 12 points in the 2000 presidential race.

There are at least a dozen candidates (five of them millionaires) in the race at this point.

For Democrats, state Comptroller Dan Hynes, the only candidate running who has been elected statewide before, and state Sen. Barack Obama are considered the two top contenders.

Hynes is widely regarded as the favorite at this point. He leads in early polls, had the most cash on hand of any candidate at the end of September and is expected to have the backing of much of the party establishment, including most labor groups.

Meanwhile Obama, a young, poised and charismatic black lawmaker, will benefit from the fact that black voters could make up almost 30 percent of the primary electorate. He also appeals to white liberals on the Chicago Lakefront, a group that almost all other candidates are mining for support.

Hynes is also young and comes from a political dynasty (his father is a former state Senator and Cook County assessor).

But the wild card remains multimillionaire businessman Blair Hull (D), who is vowing to spend up to $20 million on the primary and has already dumped more than $6 million of his own fortune into his campaign. However, Hull’s spending has produced little movement for him in early polls.

Rounding out the field of credible Democrats is ex-Chicago School Board Chairman Gery Chico, the first person to enter the race last year. He also once served as chief of staff to Chicago Mayor Richard Daley (D), who is not publicly backing any candidate in the primary.

Chico’s steady fundraising is evidence that he can’t be discounted in the race, although with the current field there are few scenarios under which he is considered the likely primary winner.

The rest of the Democratic field includes radio talk-show host Nancy Skinner, health care executive Joyce Washington and Metamora Mayor Matt O’Shea, a Republican who switched parties to run.

The looming question mark in the primary is Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas (D), who has said she plans to enter the race soon. Without even declaring her candidacy, Pappas has run even with Obama in early polls, which is a reflection of her high name recognition in the Chicago area, where the bulk of primary voters reside. While there are few observers who believe that Pappas, who has said she plans to run an unconventional campaign, will win the primary, she could have an impact on who comes out on top.

On the Republican side, the top tier of candidates consists of Goldman Sachs Group executive-turned-teacher Jack Ryan, paper company executive Andy McKenna, dairy magnate Jim Oberweis and state Sen. Steve Rauschenberger. Ryan, McKenna and Oberweis are all millionaires with the ability to partially or fully self-fund the race, much like Fitzgerald did in 1998.

Ryan recently released a poll that showed him leading the other GOP candidates with 35 percent of the vote. But it still is not clear how much of his support is based on confusion with former Gov. George Ryan (R) and former state Attorney General Jim Ryan (R), who lost a bid for governor last year. None of the three Ryans is related.

Other Republicans running are retired Air Force Gen. John Borling, who spent time in the same Hanoi jail cell as Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) during the Vietnam War, wealthy businessman Chirinjeev Kathuria and former state Rep. Jonathan Wright.

While Ryan is most likely the favorite to win the GOP nomination, none of the Republicans begins with a large, reliable political base, so other factors will be crucial.

This race will come into much clearer focus once the party’s nominees are decided. Until then, there will likely be plenty of primary antics worth keeping an eye on.

House

2nd district
Incumbent: Jesse Jackson Jr. (D)
4th term (82 percent)
Outlook: Safe Democratic

Jackson faces a primary challenge from former Rep. Mel Reynolds (D), who was forced to resign this seat in 1995 after he was convicted of sexual misconduct and other charges involving an affair he had with a 16-year-old campaign worker.

In 1997, Reynolds was also convicted of misusing campaign funds and defrauding banks, although he has quarreled with many of the prosecutors’ claims.

He served two and a half years in prison on the sex charges and was sentenced to six and a half years on the fraud charges. He was pardoned by then-President Bill Clinton during Clinton’s last days in office.

Jackson won the special election to succeed Reynolds, who now says he wants his old job back because the current Congressman isn’t serving his constituents.

While there’s no evidence that Jackson is in trouble, Reynolds could make the race interesting.

Indiana

Filing deadline: Feb. 20
Primary: May 4

Senate
Incumbent: Evan Bayh (D)
1st term (64 percent)
Outlook: Safe Democratic

Butler University sociology professor Marvin Scott is the leading Republican challenger to Bayh at this point, but the centrist former governor is not considered vulnerable in 2004.

Attorney Dwight “Ike” Wilkerson (R) is also running.

The Senate race is expected to garner little attention next year. Indiana votes reliably Republican in presidential elections, and the hot-ticket race in 2004 will be the gubernatorial contest.

Scott has been endorsed by former Rep. David McIntosh (R), who dropped out of the governor’s race earlier this year. Scott spent more than he raised in the third quarter of the year, and he ended September with $81,000 in the bank. Bayh had $5.9 million.

Bayh removed his name in June 2001 from the presidential mix, but he is still considered a possible vice presidential running mate pick for the Democratic White House nominee.

If that was to occur, Indiana law allows Bayh to run for both offices simultaneously. But if that Democratic ticket is successful, the newly elected governor would appoint a successor and the state could see a competitive race in 2006.

House

2nd district
Incumbent: Chris Chocola (R)
1st term (50 percent)
Outlook: Likely Republican

In one of the top targeted races of 2002, Chocola defeated former Rep. Jill Long Thompson (D) to replace retiring Rep. Tim Roemer (D).

Chocola would appear to be a top target for Democrats again in 2004, but this is one of at least a half-dozen races nationwide where the party has yet to field a top candidate against a freshman who won with less than 55 percent of the vote in 2002.

Thompson is now senior fellow and chief executive officer of the National Center for Food and Agricultural Policy, based in Washington, D.C. She still keeps an Indiana address and has not ruled out another run, but party insiders believe a rematch is unlikely.

Democratic Party and labor leaders in the district had hoped to find a consensus candidate by Labor Day, but no one has stepped forward with a little more than three months to go before the candidate filing deadline.

Recruiting efforts now seem to be focused on St. Joseph County Prosecutor Michael Dvorak. Businessman Steve Ross and attorney Joe Donnelly are also mentioned.

Ross once appeared to be the most interested, but he said he won’t run unless the party backs him as the consensus choice. He ran and lost in Democratic primaries in 1982 and 1984. He also ran in a 1989 special election but dropped out of the primary that Roemer later won.

Chocola, meanwhile, is preparing for a serious challenge. He never shut down his 2002 campaign office and recently hosted a fundraiser with Vice President Cheney. As of Sept. 30 he showed $365,000 in the bank.

If a top candidate runs, Chocola could get a competitive race, but the district, considered a swing seat when Roemer held it, was given a more Republican edge when lines were redrawn last cycle. The Congressman could also be helped by having President Bush at the top of the ticket.

7th district
Incumbent: Julia Carson (D)
4th term (53 percent)
Outlook: Likely Democratic

Although Carson is a perennial target in this Indianapolis-based district, Republicans always seem to come up short in their efforts to oust the 65-year-old Congresswoman.

Brose McVey (R), a one-time aide to former Sen. Dan Quayle (R-Ind.), ran a strong campaign in 2002, outspending Carson and holding her to her lowest vote total since she was first elected in 1996. Still, McVey garnered only 44 percent of the vote, in part a testament to Carson’s long-established ability to turn out her base in the black community.

Financial consultant Bob Croddy (R) filed papers to run against Carson last month. Terry Jungles (R), the owner of a lawn care business, is also running.

Carson showed $162,000 in the bank on Sept. 30.

While Republican turnout will be elevated in a presidential election year, Carson appears to be OK. Republicans may chose to focus their attention more on ousting Rep. Baron Hill (D) in the more GOP-leaning 9th district.

8th district
Incumbent: John Hostettler (R)
5th term (51 percent)
Outlook: Leans Republican

In one of Democrats’ few recruiting success stories this cycle, Boston Celtics scout Jon Jennings (D) has raised an impressive amount of money for this race so far.

As of Sept. 30, he had almost $100,000 in the bank, although most of his early financial support has come from outside the state.

Hostettler’s fundraising, meanwhile, has been even more anemic than usual.

He showed just $32,000 in the bank at the end of September, after raising almost the same amount in the third quarter. By contrast, he had raised $79,000 by midyear 2001 and had $81,000 in cash on hand.

Hostettler has never won with more than 53 percent of the vote, and he is assured of another competitive race next year in what is commonly known as the “bloody 8th.”

He won 51 percent last cycle, even as Democrats paid little attention to their nominee, Bryan Hartke, a political newcomer and the nephew of the late Sen. Vance Hartke (D-Ind.).

Jennings is also a political novice, but at least this time national Democrats are enthusiastic about his candidacy and appear willing to pour in whatever resources are needed.

His profile as a pro-gun rights Democrat who opposes abortion rights fits this conservative district well. But Jennings held various positions in the Clinton White House from 1997 to 1999, which could be a political liability.

Hostettler could be helped by higher turnout in a presidential election year. He was also one of only six Republicans in the House to vote against authorizing the use of force in Iraq, which also could end up helping him.

With so few competitive races on the horizon so far this cycle, this is likely to become a tossup race and certainly one to watch down the stretch.

9th district
Incumbent: Baron Hill (D)
3rd term (51 percent)
Outlook: Leans Democratic

Hill flirted with running for governor in 2004 but instead chose to stay in the House, where he was rewarded with a leadership position by Democrats who hold little hope of holding this seat when he leaves it.

Trucking company owner Mike Sodrel (R), who spent more than $900,000 in personal funds and won 46 percent in 2002, is running again. Based on his performance last year and without a strong nominee against Carson in the 7th, he could get more attention from the national party this time around. If that happens, Hill could be in for some trouble.

Still, the Congressman had almost $390,000 in the bank as of Sept. 30, and he has been battle-tested in this marginal district before.

Sodrel has not dipped into his pockets yet this cycle, and he has said he won’t spend more than $350,000 in personal funds this time around. At the end of September he had about $72,000 in cash for his campaign.

Michigan

Filing deadline: May 11
Primary: Aug. 3

House

7th district
Open seat: Nick Smith (R) is retiring
Outlook: Likely Republican

The race to succeed Smith, who is honoring a term-limits pledge, has drawn a crowded GOP primary field and little interest from national Democrats despite the fact that it looks to be a somewhat competitive district on paper.

Smith is seen as a likely Senate candidate in 2006.

Those running for the south-central Michigan seat are state Reps. Gene DeRossett and Clark Bisbee, former state Reps. Tim Walberg and Paul DeWeese and Calhoun County Clerk Anne Norlander, who ran for secretary of state in 2002 and lost in the primary.

Patent attorney Brad Smith, the son of the Congressman, announced in September that he is also running. He has a master’s of business administration and engineering degrees from Cornell University and has never sought political office.

An EPIC/MRA poll conducted in early September found Bisbee leading his five opponents with 16 percent. Norlander garnered 13 percent, followed by DeWeese with 11 percent and Walberg with 9 percent. DeRossett, who led all other candidates in cash on hand through Sept. 30, got 6 percent in the independent survey, and Smith got 4 percent.

DeRossett reported $296,000 on hand, while Bisbee had $97,000 in the bank. Walberg, a nondenominational minister who served 16 years in the state House before term limits forced his retirement, reported $32,000, and DeWeese, an ER physician who lost a 2002 state Senate election, had $25,000.

Smith filed for the race for his father’s seat on Oct. 10 and did not have to turn in a fundraising report.

Meanwhile, educator Al Widner is the only Democrat who is running in the 7th at this point.

One recent report suggested that some state party leaders, including delegation dean Rep. John Dingell (D), are trying to convince former state Sen. Joe Schwarz (R) to switch parties and run as a Democrat. Schwarz, who lost the GOP nomination for governor last year and was state chairman of Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) 2000 presidential bid, said there was little chance he would do so, but party strategists are still hopeful.

This district, at least on paper, appears somewhat marginal, and with the right candidate, Democrats could compete there.

But without Schwarz or another top candidate in the race, it’s likely the next Congressman from this district will be chosen in the GOP primary.

Minnesota

Filing deadline: July 20
Primary: Sept. 14

House

2nd district
Incumbent: John Kline (R)
1st term (53 percent)
Outlook: Likely Republican

In his third attempt to win a seat in Congress, Kline was one of two Republican challengers to knock off Democratic incumbents last cycle.

Former Rep. Bill Luther (D), who lost to Kline by 11 percentage points last year, has made it look like he might be interested in running again, but party insiders don’t think it’s a likely scenario at this point. His campaign committee raised less than $700 in the third quarter, but it had $94,000 in cash on hand.

A rematch with Luther would certainly be costly and bloody. But it’s questionable whether it would be highly competitive after Luther won only 42 percent of the vote despite having outspent Kline by a 2-to-1 margin last year.

During last cycle’s redistricting, the reconfiguration of this district — which Luther had struggled to hold — turned it into extremely difficult territory for Democrats.

Some Democratic activists are reaching out to FBI whistleblower Colleen Rowley to gauge her interest in running. However, Burnsville City Councilwoman Theresea Daly (D) is closer to getting in the race.

Unless a top-tier challenger emerges from obscurity, Kline appears to be in good shape for re-election.

Ohio

Filing deadline: Jan. 2
Primary: March 2

Senate

Incumbent: George Voinovich (R)
1st term (56 percent)
Outlook: Safe Republican

While there had been some speculation last year that Voinovich, a popular former governor and mayor of Cleveland, was unhappy in Washington and might not seek re-election, he appears to be re-energized in his campaign for a second term.

Although he angered many Republicans during wrangling over the size of the president’s tax cut — which prompted the conservative anti-tax Club for Growth to threaten him with a primary challenge — Voinovich is heading into 2004 in strong shape. He had a little more than $4 million in cash on hand at the end of the third quarter.

His likely Democratic opponent is state Sen. Eric Fingerhut, a former one-term Cleveland-area Congressman who was swept out of office in the 1994 Republican tidal wave.

Fingerhut, who had $258,000 in the bank on Sept. 30, has said he is not counting on support from the national party (which looks unlikely to give it). And he is convinced he can turn around the misfortunes of a downtrodden Ohio Democratic Party, which currently has no statewide officeholders.

But some Ohio Democrats believed that tabloid talk-show host Jerry Springer, who spent the better part of this year weighing a Senate bid, might have been better suited for that task.

Springer spent more than $1.1 million of his own money exploring the race before announcing in August that he would not run.

Democrats were split in their opinions about a Springer bid. Some saw his vast personal wealth as an asset that could make Republicans spend money on an otherwise safe seat. But others saw the nomination of the TV ringmaster as a new low for the party and feared that having Springer on the ballot might hurt the party’s presidential nominee.

Whether Springer could have energized nontraditional segments of the electorate and made a compelling case to voters will never be known (at least not next year). But one thing is certain, national Democrats have all but written off this race now that he is no longer a factor.

House

10th district
Incumbent: Dennis Kucinich (D)
4th term (74 percent)
Outlook: Safe Democratic

Kucinich’s current bid for president has opened the door for a number of Republican challengers who hope to capitalize on the time the Congressman is spending outside the district and his further movement to the left to appeal to the national Democratic base.

Those running in the GOP primary are state Rep. James Trakas, businessman Bruce Cobbeldick, Ed Herman, a self-described veteran of the war on terrorism who interrogated al Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan, and Bill Smith, who got 22 percent of the vote against Kucinich in 2000.

But Kucinich’s biggest threat could be from Cuyahoga County Board of Elections Chairman Tom Coyne (D), who also served as mayor of Brook Park for 20 years.

Coyne has said that he is likely to run as an Independent rather than challenge Kucinich in a primary.

The 54-year-old’s plans to run for Congress in 2004 appear to be unchanged by his September DUI arrest, a charge which he has vowed to fight in court.

Although the race may test Kucinich’s recent change of position on abortion rights (formerly against, now in favor of), he is still heavily favored to win another term. And, while Kucinich is given little chance of becoming the Democratic nominee, he is allowed under Ohio law to run for re-election at the same time as he is seeking the White House.

Wisconsin

Filing deadline: July 13
Primary: Sept. 14

Senate

Incumbent: Russ Feingold (D)
2nd term (51 percent)
Outlook: Likely Democratic

The fact that Feingold won by such a narrow margin in 1998 means this Senate contest is always within the periphery for Republicans, even if it is not currently in their top tier of targeted races.

But after successive GOP recruiting failures in more favorable states such as Arkansas, Nevada and North Dakota, Wisconsin’s importance in the 2004 Senate battleground has only increased since the beginning of the cycle.

Still, the GOP experienced its own recruiting setbacks in the Badger State when both Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, a former governor, and Rep. Paul Ryan resisted pressure to enter the race.

Now three Republicans are running, and raising money, against Feingold: car dealer Russ Darrow, state Sen. Bob Welch and businessman Tim Michels, who at the outset appears to be the favorite of party insiders.

Both Darrow and Michels have the ability to at least partially self-fund a campaign, while Welch, as the only elected official, is seen as more experienced and a seasoned campaigner.

Welch was the GOP nominee against Sen. Herb Kohl (D) in 1994, taking 41 percent of the vote after being heavily outspent.

Darrow, meanwhile, may face party loyalty questions because he has contributed to Feingold in the past. The contributions, he has said, were purely business-related.

Michels, arguably the least-known of the three Republicans, is a former Army Ranger and at one point commanded the honor guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. His military background would provide the best contrast to Feingold, some Republicans believe.

Feingold, who had $2.4 million in the bank at the end of September, has been outspent in his previous two elections, and with the ban on soft money he helped pass, it is very probable that will happen again.

But the soft-money ban, part of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act signed into law last year, also highlights some of the legislative accomplishments that Feingold will campaign on.

Aside from being one of the primary co-sponsors of BCRA, Feingold was the only Senator to vote against the USA Patriot Act in 2002, and he continues to be one of the most vocal opponents to the annual cost-of-living pay adjustment for lawmakers.

The closely divided nature of the state ensures that Feingold’s 2004 contest won’t be a cakewalk. But both parties may have to wait until the conclusion of the September GOP primary before they are able to determine just how competitive this race will be.

House
2nd district
Incumbent: Tammy Baldwin (D)
3rd term (66 percent)
Outlook: Safe Democratic

After a close 2000 contest, Baldwin easily won re-election last year against Ron Greer (R), a black minister who had been accused of distributing anti-gay literature when he ran in the 1998 GOP primary.

He made his opposition to gay rights laws the centerpiece of his campaign, and the contest was ignored by the national party.

Baldwin, the first openly gay nonincumbent to win election to the House, could see a more competitive race in 2004 if a top-tier Republican candidate emerges, especially since Wisconsin is considered a key presidential battleground state. But so far, there isn’t one on the horizon.

The Democratic performance in the 2nd district was improved slightly during redistricting, and if Baldwin faces only nominal opposition again next year she should coast to re-election.

7th district
Incumbent: David Obey (D)
17 term (64 percent)
Outlook: Safe Democratic

Obey, the gruff ranking member on the Appropriations Committee, is about as entrenched an incumbent as they come. When rumors persisted that he might not run again in 2004, he pledged to run at least through 2010, when he would be seeking a 21st term.

Ashland County District Attorney Sean Duffy (R), a one-time cast member on MTV’s “The Real World,” made some noise earlier this year that he may challenge Obey in 2004. He came to Washington, D.C., this summer to chat with Republican Party officials about the race, but little has been heard from him since.

Unless the district is dramatically altered in the next round of redistricting, there will be a competitive race to replace Obey when he retires.

Until then, his chances of becoming Appropriations chairman are greater than the possibility that he will go down to defeat.