Bean Already a Republican Target
When Rep.-elect Melissa Bean (D-Ill.) takes the oath of office and is sworn into Congress today, she will do so with the knowledge that she has already been pegged as a top target for defeat in 2006.
Bean, who beat 17-term Rep. Phil Crane (R) in November, was one of only two Democrats to retire an incumbent last cycle.
She did so by minimizing her connection to the Democratic Party and painting Crane as a Beltway insider who long ago lost touch with the constituents back in his suburban Chicago district, considered one of the most Republican in the state.
“The party will be keeping a very watchful eye on her,” said Jason Gerwig, spokesman for the Illinois GOP. “That’s a seat where we definitely plan to be competitive in the next election cycle, and we’re encouraged that we can win it back.”
While no clear frontrunner has emerged among the half dozen or so potential GOP challengers being floated, party leaders remain confident that a blockbuster contest will eventually materialize.
“This is definitely going to be a big race,” said Cook County Republican Party Chairman Gary Skoien, also a candidate for the state party chairmanship.
Skoien challenged Crane in the 1992 GOP primary but said he has little interest in running in 2006, even though he said he has been encouraged to do so.
More serious potential challengers to Bean include banker David McSweeney, who took 35 percent of the vote against Crane in the 1998 GOP primary; state Rep. Mark Beaubien, a moderate; and wealthy trial lawyer and former State Rep. Al Salvi, who spent almost $1.5 million of his own money on an unsuccessful Senate bid in 1996. He also lost a race for Illinois secretary of state in 1998.
Salvi’s wife, Kathy, is also mentioned as a possible candidate if her husband does not run.
Other names floated include state Rep. Robert Churchill and Andrew Shore, an Illinois native and staffer for the House Republican Conference who is a former legislative director for Crane.
Some Republicans are also talking up state Sen. Pamela Althoff, although she doesn’t appear likely to run at this point.
All of the statewide offices in Illinois are up in 2006, and some state legislators may look to those races first before deciding to jump into a Congressional contest.
Businessman John Cox, a perennial candidate who has run for Congress the previous three cycles, has also been mentioned despite the fact that he has never lived in the 8th district.
Republicans have already signaled that they plan to use the residency issue against Bean, a technology consultant who lives some 1,400 feet outside of the district’s borders.
In mid-December, the Illinois Republican Party sent out a press release hammering Bean for not moving into the district. GOP leaders accused Bean of being hypocritical because during the campaign she charged that Crane’s primary residence was in Virginia and that he spent little time in the district.
“Melissa Bean didn’t have any problem asking the families of the 8th district for their vote,” state GOP Executive Director John Hoffman said in the statement. “Perhaps now she can explain to them why she’s unwilling to move into their community.”
Democrats, meanwhile, brushed off the early attack as a sign that GOPers know that defeating Bean will be tough.
Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman Greg Speed charged that Republicans are “grasping at straws” by raising the residency issue.
“Melissa Bean personifies this district as well as any candidate or Member of Congress could,” Speed said. “She’s going to be a very effective Member of Congress and by attacking this early, the Republicans are betraying that they know defeating her will be a very daunting task for them.”
Some political observers have likened Bean’s situation to that of outgoing Rep. Max Burns (R-Ga.), a political mismatch in a Democratic-leaning district who was defeated in his first bid for re-election last fall.
The suburban Chicago 8th district that Bean will represent is considered the most Republican Congressional district in the state. Democrats, however, contend that the area is trending their way as Democratic-leaning voters move out of Chicago and moderate Republicans increasingly feel alienated by the conservative leadership of the party.
Bean spokesman Brian Herman argued that it would be difficult to call Bean a mismatch in a district populated heavily by independent-thinking professionals.
“The people that she represents are a new kind of electorate,” Herman said. “She is reflective of the district in terms of her priorities. In terms of being a moderate, being pragmatic.”
Bean won all three of the counties that make up the district — Cook, Lake and McHenry — on her way to winning 52 percent to 48 percent overall.
Crane refused to call Bean to concede, and he has offered her little if any help with the office transition.
Even if Republicans do face a contentious primary, the state’s March 2006 primary should afford the party plenty of time to rebuild. Candidates can start collecting signatures as early as September of this year and petitions are due to be filed this December.
Skoien, the Cook County GOP chairman, said he is already discussing the idea of setting up a generic GOP campaign operation before the primary is decided in order to allow the nominee to get off the ground running.
“I think it’s very important for us to point out what the Congressman is doing once she’s in office,” he said. “I do think that her votes are not going to mirror where this district is, my guess is. We’ll see. And that will start when she votes for [Rep.] Nancy Pelosi” for House Speaker.
But Skoien conceded that Bean could wind up winning again.
“I think it’s never easy running against an incumbent,” Skoien acknowledged. “It’s a Republican district. I don’t think she won as much as Phil lost. Again, we’ll see what her votes are. She could vote much more conservatively than I anticipate and it may be a different issue.”