DCCC Sees a Bigger(t) Target in 2010

Posted May 18, 2009 at 6:20pm

Rep. Judy Biggert (R-Ill.) will see a rematch from 2008, but this time national Democrats plan to put their money where their mouths are in the suburban Chicago district.

Biggert last year staved off college professor Scott Harper (D) with 54 percent of vote — the same winning percentage that President Barack Obama racked up in the district.

Harper is back for a second round this cycle, but Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee officials have indicated they plan to put more resources into the race. Harper is expected to make a formal announcement about his candidacy in the coming weeks, setting up what could be a competitive race in 2010.

The DCCC started its offensive against Biggert by running negative advertisements in her district earlier this year. Those ads are similar to ones designed to push vulnerable Republicans into retirement in past cycles. But the 71-year-old Biggert told Roll Call last month that she “absolutely— intends to run for re-election next year.

“One of the things that the other side of the aisle seem to be doing, part of the plan is, to talk about somebody retiring so that they’re intimidated,— Biggert said. “I’m not intimidated.—

A source close to the Harper said his team is planning a race against the six-term Republican, not for an open seat.

“It’s like the guy’s only going to do better this time,— said the source close to Harper. “With no name ID, no organization to speak of, he had to start all from scratch last time around. I just think he has a running start right now.—

Harper entered the race late in the 2008 cycle and raised just less than $1 million for his campaign in the Chicago media market. What’s more, he did not receive any significant backing from the DCCC’s independent expenditure arm.

“He was just in too crowded of a market,— a Democratic strategist from the Chicago area said. “There was just not enough money around and in the [political action committee] community to support another challenger in the Chicago media market.—

Democrats targeted several Illinois seats in the 2008 cycle, paying for expensive air time in the Chicago media market for races in the 10th, 11th and 14th districts. If Democrats do not have to spend significant cash to defend Democratic Reps. Debbie Halvorson and Bill Foster, it’s likely that they will target Biggert and Rep. Mark Kirk’s (R) seats instead.

“There were not enough resources all around to get him up to the finish line for the DCCC to come and seal the deal,— said the Chicago-area strategist, who declined to be named.

This time, DCCC strategists have indicated to Harper’s campaign that they plan to help him with his candidacy.

“We’re excited about the possibility that Scott Harper may challenge Congresswoman Biggert in 2010,— DCCC spokeswoman Gabby Adler said. “Last cycle, during an abbreviated campaign, Scott proved his ability to raise large sums of money and build grass-roots support. We’re confident that with more time, money and support, Scott will no doubt be a serious threat to Judy Biggert as voters realize times have changed but their Member of Congress has not.—

Harper also appears to be taking a page from the playbook of one of his nearby Members: Rep. Melissa Bean (D).

Bean ran her first campaign for the suburban Chicago 8th district against longtime Rep. Phil Crane (R) without the support of the DCCC in 2002. She ran a respectable race and then received help from the committee on her second try for the seat in 2004 — and won.

A source close to Harper also points out that, like Bean’s district, the 13th district has voted increasingly for Democrats in recent cycles.

“Sometimes this takes two rounds,— the source said. Bean “became the vanguard of taking on these sitting Republican incumbents, and I think Scott’s seen her race and seen her tenacity and wants to try and duplicate that.—

But even the source close to Harper allowed that this was not going to be the “easiest— race to win in 2010.

Illinois Republican Party spokesman Lance Trover was confident about Biggert’s re-election prospects.

“Judy has proven time and again that she is a great Representative for her district. She is loved by the people in that district,— Trover said. “I’m positive they’ll re-elect her in 2010.—

Both candidates are independently wealthy but also carry debt from previous campaigns. At the end of March, Biggert reported having $190,400 in the bank and carried $298,200 in debt. Republican sources said Biggert does not plan to recover the loan that she made to her campaign.

Harper, meanwhile, reported having $160,400 in debt at the end of March with just $211 in his campaign bank account. Democratic committee sources say he intends to focus on fundraising for his 2010 race instead of paying himself back for his previous bid.