While Illinois Senate Race Appears to Be a Rout, Wisconsin Senate Contest May Be Getting Closer

Posted October 1, 2004 at 2:26pm

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

It is unprecedented for an open-seat Senate contest to be considered a guaranteed win for either party one month removed from the election. However, the race to succeed Fitzgerald has been anything but typical.

Recent polling has shown state Sen. Barack Obama (D) with as much as a 51-point lead over conservative talk show host and two-time presidential candidate Alan Keyes (R).

State Republicans tapped Keyes, who moved to the state from Maryland to run, as their nominee after investment banker-turned-teacher Jack Ryan was forced to end his campaign amid allegations he frequented sex clubs.

But Keyes so far has been little more than a source of embarrassment for state and national Republicans, and his campaign has become the butt of late-night TV jokes.

Obama, whose national starpower skyrocketed overnight after his keynote address to the Democratic National Convention in July, is well on his way to becoming only the third black Senator elected since Reconstruction.

House
3rd district
Open seat: Bill Lipinski (D) is retiring
Outlook: Safe Democratic

In a carefully orchestrated transfer of power, Lipinski essentially bequeathed his South Side Chicago seat to his son when he announced in August that he would retire at the end of the year.

When that happened, it fell to Democratic leaders in the 3rd district to select his ballot replacement and it came as little surprise that they chose Dan Lipinski, for whom his father had already lined up the necessary support.

The younger Lipinski left his job as an assistant professor of political science at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville earlier this year and came home to prepare to run in November.

Dan Lipinski, 37, received a Ph.D. from Duke University in 1998. He has written a book, due to be released later this month, titled “Congressional Communication: Content and Consequence.”

This district is solidly Democratic, and Lipinski is expected to cruise to victory against Republican Ryan Chlada in the fall.

Some have questioned whether Chlada, a 26-year-old political novice, is a serious contender, alleging that he was put on the ballot by the older Lipinski and the South Side Chicago political machine.

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

Crane remains on shaky ground one month before voters go to the polls to decide his rematch race against 2002 opponent Melissa Bean (D).

Last cycle, an awful year at the polls for Republicans in the Land of Lincoln, Bean held Crane to his lowest re-election percentage since 1992.

This year doesn’t look to be much better for the GOP, with Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry expected to win the state by a large margin. The absence of a competitive Senate race also looks like it could work against Crane, the most senior Republican in the House.

While the suburban Chicago district remains the most GOP-friendly of any in the state, Democrats argue that Crane’s lackluster record combined with an influx of new voters give Bean the right ingredients for an upset.

Bean has handed out seat cushions to hammer home her message that Crane is little more than an out- of-touch seat warmer after 34 years in the House. She has raised a considerable amount of money and national Democrats appear willing to spend in the 8th district if Crane continues to look vulnerable down the stretch.

Republicans have stepped up their efforts to aid Crane, who has campaigned recently with Vice President Cheney and Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.).

There is no evidence at this point that an anti-incumbent wave will develop before November, but Crane could be one of this cycle’s few exceptions if Democrats play all of their cards just right.

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

Bayh, a popular former two-term governor, is expected to cruise to a second term over little-known Butler University sociology professor Marvin Scott (R) next month.

Bayh had $7.4 million in the bank at the end of June. Scott, one of a handful of Senate candidates featured at the GOP convention in New York, had just under $100,000.

While this state votes reliably Republican on the presidential level, this seat appears to be Bayh’s for as long as he wants it.

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

There has been minimal discussion of this race as part of the national battleground this fall and time is running out for businessman Joe Donnelly (D) to move the contest against Chocola into the top tier.

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

Republicans say Chocola will get a boost from having President Bush on the ticket this year, but Democrats argue that the state’s high-profile gubernatorial election could have more of an impact on the results.

Gov. Joe Kernan (D) is facing off against former Office of Management and Budget Director Mitch Daniels (R). Kernan is from the 2nd district and he will need a strong turnout in his home base to win statewide.

Democrats argue that will help Donnelly, who could also get a boost from the involvement of former Rep. Tim Roemer (D). Roemer held the seat before Chocola and he remains popular in the 2nd.

Still, it’s hard to see how coattails and testimonials alone will propel the underfunded and lesser-known Donnelly to winning a seat in Congress.

This swing district favors Republicans and Chocola has done a good job of keeping his nose to the grindstone in his first term in office. He has been a prolific fundraiser, and he entered the final leg of the campaign with more than $500,000 in his campaign war chest.

Chocola has been on television since Labor Day. A recent Research 2000 poll showed Chocola leading Donnelly 53 percent to 40 percent.

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

Hostettler faces Boston Celtics scout Jon Jennings, who began the cycle as one of Democrats’ most highly touted recruits.

With only one month to go before Election Day time is quickly running out for Jennings, who has raised and spent a considerable amount of money on the race to live up to that billing.

Republicans have labeled Jennings a liberal from “Indianachussetts,” highlighting his high level of contributions from Massachusetts considering his ties to the Celtics organization.

Still, Republicans will always have to keep an eye on Hostettler, who has never won with more than 53 percent of the vote. Hostettler has always been a sluggish fundraiser, and GOP leaders have warned him this cycle they will not have the funds to bail him out if he finds himself in trouble down the stretch.

He won 51 percent last cycle, even as Democrats paid little attention to their nominee.

That doesn’t appear to be the case this year, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has already reserved television air time in what is commonly referred to as the “bloody 8th.”

Just as Hostettler has proved he has the loyal grassroots support needed to win competitive battles, he has shown an equal propensity to garner unwelcome headlines.

He was stopped at the Louisville airport earlier this year after trying to board a plane to Washington, D.C., while carrying a loaded 9mm Glock pistol in his briefcase. The Congressman — who claimed he forgot the gun was in the bag — later pleaded guilty to carrying a deadly concealed weapon and received a suspended sentence.

Having Bush at the top of the ticket should help Hostettler in this culturally conservative district.

As the war in Iraq remains a focus on the national level, Hostettler could choose to play up the fact that he was one of only six Republicans in the House to vote against authorizing the use of force in Iraq. Jennings has said he would have voted in favor of the measure. Jennings recently released a comprehensive plan for addressing the future needs of the district. Still, his ability to successfully articulate to voters why they shouldn’t send Hostettler back for a sixth term remains to be seen.

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 almost $1 million of his own money and won 46 percent in 2002.

There is little doubt that national Republicans are more committed to the effort to oust Hill than they were two years ago.

Still, Democrats remain confident in his ability to win a fourth term, and they tout internal polling that backs that belief up. They also say that Republican attempts to paint the Blue Dog Hill as a liberal will ultimately prove fruitless.

Sodrel has drawn a host of GOP luminaries to the district to campaign on his behalf, including Vice President Cheney, Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson.

The Indiana Farm Bureau Political Action Committee, which backed Hill in 2002, recently decided to stay neutral in this year’s race.

Sodrel’s ability to pour significant resources into the race in its closing weeks keeps Democrats nervous, although he has said he will not spend his personal money this time around.

As of June 30, Hill had $783,000 in the bank, while Sodrel had $307,000.

President Bush is expected to win this district by a large margin, but Sodrel’s ability to appeal to voters who have long been accustomed to ticketsplitting remains up in the air.

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

Joe Schwarz, a former state Senator and practicing physician, is poised to represent this border district in Congress.

Schwarz won a heated, six-way Republican primary in August to become the GOP nominee.

In this heavily Republican district that extends to the Ohio border, he is expected to easily beat Democrat Sharon Renier and three minor-party candidates.

Schwarz beat several state lawmakers and Smith’s son, lawyer Brad Smith, in a primary contest that pitted the moderate Schwarz against five conservative opponents.

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

Redistricting made this area south of the Twin Cities far more Republican, finally putting Kline over the top in his third attempt to beat then-Rep. Bill Luther (D) in 2002.

But Democrats are hopeful that Burnsville City Councilwoman Teresa Daly can avenge that loss.

She has proved to be an adept fundraiser, banking about $450,000 as of Aug. 25. The freshman Kline began September with about $700,000 in cash on hand.

President Bush won the 2nd by 6 points in 2000, but he has been trailing Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) statewide in recent polls.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has marked the 2nd as one of about 30 districts it will buy television time in this cycle.

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

Child safety advocate Patty Wetterling (D) is trying to make Kennedy work for his presumed 2006 Senate challenge to Sen. Mark Dayton (D) by giving him a tough re-election race this year.

The nationally known mother who has worked tirelessly to find missing children such as her son Jacob, who was abducted in 1989, has proved herself a prolific fundraiser since she decided to challenge Kennedy in May.

She began September with more than $500,000 in her war chest compared to Kennedy’s roughly $700,000.

She even outraised him during the July 1-Aug. 25 filing period.

National Republicans are concerned enough that Kennedy is a member of the National Republican Congressional Committee’s “Million Dollar Club.”

NRCC Chairman Tom Reynolds (N.Y.) hit up major political action committees to collectively pony up $1 million to be shared by 39 GOP candidates before the June 30 Federal Election Commission deadline.

Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) even made a quick stop to the district in July to bolster Kennedy’s popularity.

Wetterling has the power of EMILY’s List, the group that endorses female Democratic candidates who support abortion rights, on her side.

Wetterling’s compelling personal story notwithstanding, she still faces long odds as the district favored President Bush over former Vice President Al Gore by 10 points in 2000.

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

State Senator and one-time House Member Eric Fingerhut (D) has been waging a spunky but extremely uphill battle against the popular Voinovich.

The former governor and Cleveland mayor led the relatively unknown Fingerhut by 30 points in the latest poll and has buried him in the money chase.

Fingerhut has employed some inventive stunts to bring attention to his campaign — such as walking across the state and spending time working in a local deli as a way to introduce himself to voters and to show that he understand their problems.

But it will likely be for naught as the state looks inclined to end up once again in President Bush’s column on Election Night.

Fingerhut does not have the kind of money needed to run an all-out media blitz, which is really the only way for him to overcome Voinovich’s name-identification advantage.

Voinovich has about $5.5 million in the bank, while Fingerhut’s cash-on-hand total is around $150,000.

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 now his campaign donations from House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) have become an issue in the campaign.

His opponent, the brassy 26-year-old Capri Cafaro (D), has demanded that LaTourette not participate in the House ethics committee’s decision about whether to pursue an investigation against DeLay because LaTourette has been the recipient of about $16,000 from DeLay’s leadership political action committee.

LaTourette has resisted the call for recusal, telling the Cleveland Plain Dealer: “I’m not his boy,” in reference to DeLay, adding: “If anybody in this business can be purchased for a $16,000 contribution, they don’t deserve to be in office.”

DeLay’s troubles not withstanding, LaTourette has lost some of his union support to the wealthy Cafaro, whose family has made a fortune building shopping malls.

National Republicans have been concerned enough about Cafaro’s ability to self-fund her campaign that they have been stuffing the incumbent’s campaign war chest to the tune of $1.1 million.

Cafaro had just $320,000 in the bank as of her most recent campaign filing.

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

It appears as if Feingold drew the toughest and perhaps scrappiest possible Republican opponent in construction company executive Tim Michels.

Michels was the surprise winner in the late, three-way GOP primary held Sept. 14.

Michels has come out swinging hard against the campaign finance reform architect, airing ads using images of the attack on the World Trade Center and challenging Feingold on his lone dissenting vote against the Patriot Act.

For his part, Feingold has shown he will let no attack go unchallenged.

No sooner had Michels begun a television ad accusing Feingold of being against drug reimportation from Canada than Feingold held a news conference to denounce Michels’ “dirty tricks.”

(For the record, Feingold has sponsored legislation to allow U.S. consumers to buy Canadian prescription drugs.)

Feingold almost immediately announced that he once again would forgo third-party ads, even those purchased with hard dollars by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Many Democrats blamed his willingness to abide by McCain-Feingold regulations even before it became law for his close call in 1998, when he barely beat then-Rep. Mark Neumann (R), whose campaign was heavily subsidized by outside ads.

Feingold has called on Michels to do the same and sign a clean-campaign pledge but so far the former Army Ranger has refused, saying he cannot tell others what to do and calling the pledge a “gimmick” despite having signed one for the primary.

How well Michels’ hard-ball tactics will work remains to be seen.

A recent ABC News poll had Feingold leading by 11 points among registered voters but only by 6 among likely voters.

Michels contributed $1.5 million to his primary victory and has the ability to put in a couple million more but has so far refused to say how much he will commit.

Feingold’s strong fundraising gave him a big financial advantage as of Aug. 25, but if Michels raises money quickly and Feingold is unable to take full advantage of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act’s “millionaires amendment” provision that would allow him to raise funds above regular contribution limits, this race could get tighter fast.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee has high hopes for Michels and has signaled a willingness to dump significant money into this race if it looks winnable.

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

Kleczka’s surprise retirement announcement early this year should produce the Badger State’s first black Member of Congress.

State Sen. Gwen Moore (D) decisively won a competitive three-way primary Sept. 14 that paved the way for her to make history.

She is the strong favorite against political novice Gerald Boyle (R) in this heavily Democratic Milwaukee district, where one-third of the population is black.

Boyle was the surprise winner in the Republican primary against businessman Corey Hoze, who was the GOP establishment favorite. Had he won, the race for the 4th would have been the state’s first all-black Congressional competition.

Moore was aided in her win by national groups such as EMILY’s List.

— Nicole Duran and Lauren W. Whittington