MIDWEST: Illinois Senate Primary Victors Prepare for Nov.; Republicans Insist That Feingold Can Be Defeated

Posted May 13, 2004 at 3:10pm

ILLINOIS
Filing deadline: passed
Primary: passed

Senate
Open seat: Peter Fitzgerald (R) is retiring
Outlook: Leans Democratic

With their unpredictable and at times circus-like primaries behind them, state Sen. Barack Obama (D) and investment banker-turned-teacher Jack Ryan (R) are squaring off in the contest to replace Fitzgerald.

The race — featuring the two young, attractive, Harvard-educated men — has been dubbed a battle of GQ proportions. But it is also one with historic implications.

Obama defied all conventional wisdom and the previous primary performances of other statewide black candidates by getting 53 percent of the vote in a crowded field, beating back a Democratic machine-backed statewide official and a multimillionaire who spent upwards of $28 million on the race.

Now Obama is trying to become only the third black Senator elected since Reconstruction, and after his primary win he rose to national prominence overnight.

Ryan, whom opponents charged with running the quintessential rose garden campaign, had a somewhat easier road to the GOP nomination. Still, he emerged from the primary with some political baggage still in tow.

After the unsealing of contentious divorce documents toppled millionaire Blair Hull’s (D) primary campaign, the media and Ryan’s opponents trained their focus on his messy 1999 divorce from actress Jeri Ryan.

Ryan released most of the divorce file but kept a portion closed, he argued, to protect the couple’s 9-year-old son.

The divorce issue peaked late in the campaign, and Ryan won with 36 percent of the vote after spending $3.5 million of his personal fortune.

The issue continued to haunt Ryan after the primary, and litigation is currently ongoing after the Chicago Tribune went to court to have the records released.

While the issue appears to have subsided for now, there is little doubt it will resurface again before November.

Personal issues aside, most handicappers say the race is largely Obama’s to lose.

The state has trended more and more Democratic in recent years and Ryan — although it didn’t appear to hinder him in the primary — shares the same last name with the unpopular and ethically challenged former governor. The two men are not related.

Also, observers point to Obama’s startling success in the primary, not just in the Democratic stronghold of Chicago, but also in the Windy City’s more traditionally conservative suburbs.

A new independent poll conducted earlier this month showed him beating Ryan, 44 percent to 28 percent.

Ryan has criticized Obama for being too liberal for the state, and both men have sought to move to the center after the primary.

Obama recently met with Chicago Mayor Richard Daley (D), who has agreed to help Obama with fundraising and campaigning. The mayor was not publicly involved in the Democratic primary, and his support will be crucial in November.

House
8th district
Incumbent: Phil Crane (R)
17th term (57 percent)
Outlook: Safe Republican

Crane faces a rematch with 2002 opponent Melissa Bean, whom Democrats tout as a formidable fundraiser and challenger to the most senior Republican in the House.

In 2002 — an awful year at the polls for Land of Lincoln Republicans — Bean held Crane to 57 percent of the vote, his lowest re-election percentage since 1992.

But the suburban Chicago district remains one of the two most Republican districts in the state. President Bush would have won 56 percent in the 8th in 2000, even as he lost Illinois by 12 points to then-Vice President Al Gore.

With Bush at the top of the ticket this year, it’s hard to see how Bean topples Crane unless a yet-undetectable anti-incumbent sentiment sweeps the country this summer. Indeed, party strategists argue that Bean could be one of the first beneficiaries if a Democratic wave develops later this cycle.

Bean has raised more than $320,000 for her campaign, including a $10,000 personal loan, and she had $155,000 left in reserves at the end of March. Crane, first elected in a 1969 special election to replace then-Rep. and current Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld (R), had $314,000 in the bank.

INDIANA
Filing deadline: passed
Primary: passed

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

Bayh, the centrist former governor and possible vice presidential pick, faces little-known Butler University sociology professor Marvin Scott (R) and he is expected to cruise to a second term in November.

Bayh had $6.9 million in the bank at the end of March. Scott, meanwhile, had just $28,000.

After removing his name in June 2001 from the presidential mix, Bayh is still mentioned as a possible running mate pick. If that were to occur, Indiana law would allow him to run for both offices simultaneously.

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

In one of the more expensive and closely watched open-seat battles of the previous cycle, Chocola defeated former Rep. Jill Long Thompson (D), 50 percent to 46 percent.

This year Chocola faces businessman Joe Donnelly (D), the party’s consensus choice after Democrats failed to entice a top-tier challenger into the race.

With fundraising help from the likes of Vice President Cheney, Chocola has raised about $1 million so far this cycle. He had $622,000 in the bank as of mid-April. Donnelly had raised about $155,000 through the end of April and had about $66,000 left in the bank.

This swing district slightly favored Republicans even when it was held by former Rep. Tim Roemer (D), and it was improved for the GOP during the last round of redistricting. With President Bush at the top of the ticket, and with the absence of a well-known, well-funded challenger, Chocola appears to be well positioned to win a second term.

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

Hostettler faces Boston Celtics scout Jon Jennings, one of Democrats’ most highly touted challengers recruited this cycle.

Jennings has raised an impressive amount of money for this race so far, but he has also spent an excessive amount of it already. Through mid-April he had raised close to $500,000 for his campaign, but had only about $200,000 left in the bank.

Republicans have hit Jennings, who still has close ties to the Celtics’ organization, for his out-of-state contributions. Labeling him as a liberal from “Indianachussetts,” they charge he has raised close to 73 percent of his money so far from out of state.

Meanwhile, Hostettler’s fundraising, which had been even more sluggish than usual last year, picked up some in the first quarter, and he had $110,000 in the bank as of mid-April after having raised $153,000 for the cycle.

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.

But now national party strategists argue that Jennings, who is making his first run for office, has a pro-gun, anti-abortion-rights profile that fits this conservative district well.

The Indiana native also has an interesting résumé. It includes working for Indiana basketball coaching legend Bobby Knight and the Indiana Pacers, as well as a fellowship in the Clinton White House and two positions at the Justice Department.

This race also features an unconventional dynamic when it comes to the war in Iraq. Hostettler was one of only six Republicans in the House to vote against authorizing the use of force in Iraq. Jennings says he would have voted in favor of the measure.

Hostettler, who was recently arraigned for carrying a gun into a Louisville airport, has proved he has the loyal grassroots support needed to win competitive battles. Jennings will have to find a more persuasive argument than his Democratic predecessors did to convince voters not to send Hostettler back for a sixth term.

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

Hill faces a rematch with trucking company owner Mike Sodrel (R), who spent more than $900,000 in personal funds and won 46 percent in 2002.

Sodrel outspent the incumbent last time around but has said he doesn’t plan to self-finance his campaign this year.

So far, his fundraising has not disappointed party strategists. He outraised Hill in the first quarter of the year and had $235,000 in the bank as of mid-April. Still, Hill’s campaign account showed a balance of $646,000.

Last cycle, national Republicans appeared to focus more on the challenge to Rep. Julia Carson (D) in the 7th district than on retiring Hill. With little other competition in the state this cycle, Sodrel is being pitched as one of the top challengers to watch.

Vice President Cheney has already appeared in the district on behalf of Sodrel, and some small skirmishes between the two parties indicate this race has the potential to get nasty before it’s all over.

If President Bush’s popularity remains high in the Hoosier State, which is not considered a presidential battleground, this contest could move to the tossup column before November.

MICHIGAN
Filing deadline: passed
Primary: Aug. 3

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

The six-way GOP primary has become very competitive and unpredictable. The winner will undoubtedly become the next Congressman.

It is hard to say if there is a frontrunner, as no one has broken the 20 percent mark in polls and all the candidates can point to key endorsements. Another unknown is whether allegations that Republican leaders attempted to coerce Rep. Smith into voting for President Bush’s Medicare reform package in exchange for campaign support for his son could become a factor in the primary outcome.

For now, former state Sen. Joe Schwarz — the lone moderate in the field, who served as state chairman for Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) 2000 presidential bid — arguably is in the lead.

Schwarz, a physician, has fairly high name recognition thanks to his failed 2002 gubernatorial bid. He led the pack in the latest independent poll conducted by EPIC/MRA, but by only 2 points.

The perception that he is the man to beat, coupled with his support for abortion rights, also makes him target No. 1 for the other five more conservative candidates.

Schwarz trails in the money chase, but he was also the last to enter the fray — he officially announced his bid on March 25. He banked a little more than $144,000 for the March 31 Federal Election Commission reports.

State Rep. Gene DeRossett closed the first quarter with the most in the bank, almost $548,000. He had loaned his campaign $451,000.

Former state Rep. Paul DeWeese had $261,000 cash on hand — 70 percent of everything he has raised so far was a loan from himself.

Attorney Brad Smith, Nick Smith’s son, banked about $239,000. State Rep. Clark Bisbee had almost $202,000 in cash on hand, while former state Rep. Tim Walberg ended the quarter with more than $102,000 in the bank.

Democrats have not been able to draw a top-flight candidate in what could be a reasonably competitive district. Sharon Marie Renier and Drew Walker have recently thrown their hats into the Democratic primary but have yet to file financial disclosure reports.

Democrat Al Widner raised $45,370 but dropped out of the race.

MINNESOTA
Filing deadline: July 20
Primary: Sept. 14

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

Redistricting made this district south of the Twin Cities far more Republican, finally putting Kline over the top on his third bid to defeat then-Rep. Bill Luther (D) in 2002. While there has been some talk of a Luther comeback attempt, the Democratic nominee now appears likely to be Burnsville City Councilwoman Teresa Daly, who appears to be overmatched so far.

While this is a district that President Bush won by only 6 points in 2000, Democrats would have to pump lots of money into the district for Daly to have a chance.

6th district
Incumbent: Mark Kennedy (R)
2nd term (57 percent)
Outlook: Likely Republican

Kennedy, on paper, should have an easy time of things as an attractive, accomplished Member with a bright political future.

But a few unusual factors make his district north of Minneapolis worth watching. This is probably Kennedy’s last re-election campaign in the 6th, and he is widely perceived to be the leading challenger to Sen. Mark Dayton (D) in 2006.

More intriguing, Patty Wetterling (D), a children’s safety advocate, recently entered the race. Wetterling rose to national prominence when her son was abducted in 1989. She announced her candidacy at her son’s old elementary school, and is sure to get national media attention throughout the campaign.

Kennedy had $600,000 in the bank as of March 31. Wetterling may be setting the stage for a run to succeed Kennedy in 2006.

OHIO
Filing deadline: passed
Primary: passed

Senate
Incumbent: George Voinovich (R)
1st term (60 percent)
Outlook: Safe Republican

Ohio — and the nation — will be spared the spectacle of seeing trash talk show host Jerry Springer (D) running for this seat. After months of exploring a candidacy, Springer decided not to run last summer and is eyeing a run for governor in 2006.

Instead, the Democratic nominee is state Sen. Eric Fingerhut, who served one term in Congress before being driven out in the Republican landslide of 1994.

Voinovich, a former governor and Cleveland mayor, had 50 times as much money in the bank as Fingerhut as of March 31, and should have little trouble holding this seat, despite a new Democratic poll that showed him under 50 percent.

House
14th district
Incumbent: Steven LaTourette (R)
5th term (72 percent)
Outlook: Safe Republican

While redistricting has eliminated any semblance of competitive House districts in the Buckeye State, this race at least has a few intriguing subplots.

LaTourette has suffered the indignity of seeing his personal problems aired in public, and some of the labor support he has traditionally enjoyed may be more shaky as the Congressman rises in the Republican leadership.

The Democratic candidate in this district that extends from the Cleveland suburbs to the Akron suburbs is Capri Cafaro, a wealthy 20-something businesswoman who may partially self-fund her campaign. She is an attractive newcomer, but LaTourette doesn’t have any real reason to sweat yet.


WISCONSIN
Filing deadline: July 13
Primary: Sept. 14

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

Republicans keep insisting that they have a shot at knocking off the quixotic incumbent, but there hasn’t been much evidence of it yet. The GOP is handicapped by a late primary with no obvious frontrunner; the identity of the nominee — and the party’s ability to unify behind him — will go a way long in determining just how competitive with Feingold Republicans will be.

The three top Republican candidates are auto dealer Russ Darrow — who has gotten some mileage out of calling himself “the right Russ” — businessman Tim Michels and state Sen. Bob Welch.

Welch, the unsuccessful GOP nominee against Sen. Herb Kohl (D) in 1994, appears to be the favorite of social conservatives, and he has scored points with primary voters by noting that Michels and Darrow have both contributed to Democratic candidates in the past.

National party leaders seem the most intrigued with Michels, a military veteran with a young family.

Michels and Darrow are both able to self-fund at least a portion of their campaigns. Through March 31, Darrow had $1.3 million in the bank, Michels had $857,000, and Welch had $404,000. A long-shot candidate, lawyer Robert Lorge (R), has just begun raising money.

Feingold, the architect with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) of campaign finance reform, was sitting on $3.4 million and is clearly favored to win a third term. House
3rd district
Incumbent: Ron Kind (D)
4th term (63 percent)
Outlook: Likely Democratic

Republicans are enthusiastic about their likely nominee, farmer and state Sen. Dale Schultz (R). Schultz, who only entered the race late last fall, had raised more than $200,000 and had $134,000 in the bank through March 31. His reputation in the district is aided by the fact that his wife is a local superintendent of schools.

But Kind, a former LaCrosse County prosecutor, has done little to give voters in this Democratic-leaning district that runs along the Mississippi River reason to fire him. Since winning a tough first race in 1996, he has never had to sweat re-election.

Through March 31, he had $729,000 on hand.

4th district
Open seat: Jerry Kleczka (D) is retiring
Outlook: Safe Democratic

Kleczka’s surprise retirement announcement earlier this year set off a scramble among Milwaukee-area Democrats, and the final field of primary candidates may not yet be complete.

Four well-known Democrats are already in the race, with no obvious frontrunner yet: state Sen. Tim Carpenter, former Wisconsin Democratic Party Chairman Matt Flynn, state Rep. Shirley Krug and state Sen. Gwen Moore. The blessing of organized labor could be key in the race, and all of the candidates are actively courting organized labor.

In a district that is more than 30 percent black, Moore could have an advantage by being the lone black candidate in the field. Race relations are raw in Milwaukee following a contentious mayoral election that saw former Rep. Tom Barrett (D) defeat the acting mayor, who is black.

Potentially adding fuel to the racial tinderbox, the likely Republican nominee is black. Corey Hoze is a former top aide to Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson — both at the HHS and during Thompson’s tenure as Wisconsin governor. While Hoze is a long shot at best, his presence on the ballot — coupled with lingering resentments in the black community — could pressure some Democratic leaders to rally around Moore.

No matter what happens, this district in 2004 will elect just its third Member of Congress since 1948. Kleczka served for 11 terms, replacing the legendary Clement Zablocki (D).