Hyde and Seek

With Congressman’s News, Would-be Successors Mobilize

Posted April 19, 2005 at 6:27pm

Veteran Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.) confirmed his long-anticipated retirement plans late Monday, making state Sen. Peter Roskam (R) and information technology consultant Christine Cegelis (D) the early frontrunners in an open-seat race that has been brewing behind the scenes for months.

While Hyde’s suburban Chicago 6th district favors Republicans, strategists from both parties say they are preparing for a costly and competitive contest to succeed the 16-term lawmaker.

Roskam is scheduled to hold a conference call with reporters Thursday and is expected to announce the formation of an exploratory campaign committee. He is also very close to signing a team of consultants, including a pollster, media consultant and political action committee fundraiser, for his campaign.

Roskam released a statement Tuesday praising Hyde as “a champion for conservative values.”  

“While I appreciate the interest in my future plans, today is a day to reflect on Henry Hyde and his decades of service to make our world a better place,” he said.

Although it is unlikely Roskam will have a clear primary field, party strategists privately acknowledged the state Senator is the odds-on favorite to win the GOP nod next March. His biggest primary threat, fellow state Sen. Dan Cronin (R), said earlier this year he would not run if Hyde decided to step down.

Other potential GOP candidates include former DuPage County Recorder of Deeds Rick Carney and state Sen. Carole Pankau.

Cegelis, meanwhile, never shut down her campaign operation from 2004, when she lost to Hyde by a 12-point margin. So far, she is the only Democrat who has expressed any interest in the 6th district race and, according to her interim campaign Web site, she had raised $46,278 as of April 12 toward a goal of banking $100,000 by July 4.

After largely being ignored by Democratic leaders last cycle, Cegelis may find party strategists grudgingly rallying behind her. While some Democrats hold out hopes of finding a better-known, potentially wealthy candidate, the party’s bench is thin in a district where the GOP has long been in control of local government.

Sarah Feinberg, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, on Tuesday touted Cegelis’ profile as a successful businesswoman and single mother — as well as her 44 percent showing last year.

Democrats also argue that the seat has grown more competitive in recent years and that the demographics of the district are moving in their direction.

“We feel very good about our possibilities in this district,” Feinberg said.

President Bush won 53 percent of the vote in the district in both the 2000 and 2004 elections. In a state that Republicans didn’t even contest, GOP strategists say that’s evidence the seat is not in jeopardy of changing hands.

Republicans also warn that Cegelis’ race last year will bear little resemblance to a competitive, incumbentless contest.

“Open-seat campaigns are very different from running against an entrenched incumbent,” said National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Carl Forti. “Christine Cegelis went through last cycle without having a glove laid on her. That will be different this time.”

In addition, Forti said Democrats may be hard pressed to be able to fund two hotly contested races in the cost-prohibitive Chicago media market. Freshman Rep. Melissa Bean (D-Ill.), who defeated 17-term Rep. Phil Crane (R) last cycle, is expected to be a top target in 2006. Republicans, however, have yet to settle on a challenger.

“Democrats are going to be so focused on trying to save Melissa Bean, they’re not going to be able to make a second district competitive in the Chicago media market,” Forti said.

This is not Roskam’s first run for Congress. In 1998, he moved to the 13th district to run for an open seat. He was defeated in the GOP primary by now-Rep. Judy Biggert, 45 percent to 40 percent.

Biggert, then a state Representative like Roskam, ran as a moderate in favor of abortion rights and had the backing of then-Gov. Jim Edgar (R), also a moderate, and then-Rep. Harris Fawell (R), who was vacating the seat.

Roskam, elected to the state Senate in 2000, had significant support from religious conservatives, including Gary Bauer’s Campaign for Working Families. He is expected to enjoy similar assistance in next year’s race, which could make for an interesting coalition considering he is also a trial lawyer, a constituency that traditionally backs Democrats.

In his 1998 primary Roskam raised and spent $423,000, and sources close to the state Senator estimate he will raise more than $1 million for next year’s race.

Still, Feinberg argued that Roskam may be too conservative for the more moderate swing voters of the suburban district.

She noted Roskam’s effort to help block Chicago Mayor Richard Daley’s (D) push to strengthen gun control laws. The state Senate recently passed Roskam-sponsored legislation that would undo local handgun bans across the Windy City’s suburbs and require the state to destroy gun purchase records after 90 days. Hyde, by comparison, supported the Brady bill waiting period for gun purchases and other gun control measures.

“If that’s who they’re going to run, I think they’re going to have to take a good look at his issues profile,” Feinberg said.

Republicans call that theory hogwash and note that Hyde, who is staunchly anti-abortion rights, has long been considered an icon of the conservative movement.

“I don’t think a Republican can be too conservative in Henry Hyde’s seat,” said one GOP source with ties to Roskam. “I think that label doesn’t work in this district.”

In the end though, Republicans are not taking anything for granted and are preparing for a spirited general election race — especially with DCCC Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.) representing the neighboring 5th district.

“I think it’s going to be a very competitive seat,” the Illinois GOP source tied to Roskam said.