GOP Hopes Hastert Will Return District to the Family

Posted June 10, 2009 at 6:33pm

It appears the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree — or in this case, the district.

Attorney Ethan Hastert (R), the son of former Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), has filed to run against Rep. Bill Foster (D) for his father’s former House seat.

Republicans hope Hastert’s early entrance into the race will clear the GOP field and avoid the divisive primary battle that likely cost them the seat last cycle. National Republicans have indicated that they plan to target Foster, who they view as vulnerable next year.

In a phone interview Wednesday, Hastert would not go into detail about how his politics differ from those of his father, but he acknowledged he was concerned about the deficit spending that occurred during his father’s tenure as Speaker.

“It would be fair to say that I took issue with the deficit spending in the latter years of the Bush Administration, and of course those were budgets that my father passed,— Hastert said. “I don’t mean to Monday-morning-quarterback, but I think it’s fair to say that Republicans as a whole lost their way on spending and that we’ve got some work to do to earn back the trust of the American public on that issue.—

Illinois GOP consultant Mark Johnson said the district should have never been lost by Republicans. Like many local partisans, Johnson attributed Foster’s victory to a divisive GOP special election primary between state Sen. Chris Lauzen and businessman Jim Oberweis in the March 2008 special election.

“Bill Foster initially won because of the internal divisions inside the Republican Party in the district,— Johnson said. “And he got re-elected because of the national trend leading up to the 2008 election and Obama doing so well in Illinois.—

Johnson called it “essential— for Republicans to avoid a primary this time around if they want to win back the seat.

Nonetheless, local Republicans say there are other candidates who might be interested in running: Lauzen, former Regional HUD Secretary Joe Galvin and former state Sen. Steve Rauschenberger. Lauzen, however, might be less inclined to run this time because he would have to give up his Senate seat to do so.

What’s more, the elder Hastert has had a well-known feud with Lauzen and opted to endorse Oberweis in the special election for his seat. Ethan Hastert said he met with Lauzen about a month ago but said he was not sure at the time whether the state Senator was planning to run.

National Republicans also acknowledged that Oberweis, who was the party’s nominee in both the special and the November general election, was not the best candidate for the race and that is another reason Foster holds the seat today.

Foster defeated Oberweis, a dairy magnate, with 58 percent of the vote last November. Foster won more votes in the district than President Barack Obama, who carried the 14th district with 55 percent of the vote.

Foster was not available for an interview for this story.

One Democratic operative with experience in the area said it was still a “swing— district. In particular, the population in Kane County is growing quickly and many independent voters in that area have shown they can be persuaded to vote for Democrats. And while Kane County has increasingly voted for Democrats in recent elections, the similarly fast-growing Kendall County is more conservative.

“The NRCC will claim they’ve got a star recruit, but you’re 30-some years old and your one claim to fame is Dick Cheney, that’s not going to win over swing voters,— the Democrat said.

Hastert was a special assistant to former Vice Presidential Chief of Staff Scooter Libby from the beginning of the administration until June 2002. During his tenure at the White House, Hastert was arrested for a DUI in 2001.

He left Washington, D.C., to attend Northwestern University Law School and became an attorney at a Chicago law firm shortly after graduation. The 31-year-old attorney recently moved back into the district, purchasing a home in Elburn last December.

Johnson, the GOP consultant in Illinois, also noted that Hastert’s biggest strength is his namesake, but his biggest challenge will be proving he has the gravitas and the fundraising skills to be a Member of Congress.

“I’m sure his Dad probably has some [political action committees] that he could help recommend to him,— Johnson said.

The seat will also be extremely expensive for the national parties to target because much of the district is inside the Chicago media market.

Hastert paraphrased the son of another famous political dynasty, former President George W. Bush, who said he thought he inherited 100 percent of his father’s enemies and 50 percent of his friends.

“I think that applies to fundraising as well,— Hastert quipped.