Three U.S. House Dems at high risk in election


In 2006, an anti-Bush, anti-Republican, pro-Democratic "wave" year, the Democrats made a net gain of 31 U.S. House seats, eliminating the Republicans’ 232-202 majority, giving the Democrats a 233-201 majority, and making Nancy Pelosi the speaker of the house. Of those 31 turnovers, only three reverted to the Republicans in 2008.

In 2008, the "Year of Obama," when anti-Bush fever crested, another 21 Democrats won Republican seats, increasing their majority to 257-178, but "Obamacare" and other liberal initiatives took a toll, and 30 of those elected in 2006 and 2008 lost in 2010.

An anti-Obama wave restored Republican House control in 2010, with an astounding gain of 65 seats, for a 242-193 majority. Only 12 of those 65 new Republicans lost in 2012.

The Obama re-election in 2012 brought a modest net crop of eight new House Democrats, including five from Illinois, but the Republicans retained a majority of 234-201.

It takes unusually poor political skills, unusually bad press (such as for a scandal), or an unusually hostile political environment for any congressional incumbent to lose. The advantages of incumbency — staff, constituent services, visibility, a deluge of franked mail and money — are difficult to overcome. First-term incumbents are most at risk, as 2 years is insufficient for entrenchment, and Democrats Brad Schneider (D-10), Bill Enyart (D-12) and Cheri Boustos (D-17) face difficult re-election contests. Freshmen Bill Foster (D-11) and Tammy Duckworth (D-8) are solid favorites. Illinois’ delegation is now 12-6 Democratic; after 2010 it was 11-8 Republican. Illinois lost one seat due to population decline, from 19 to 18, and Democratic remappers put four Republicans (Randy Hultgren and Joe Walsh, and Don Manzullo and Adam Kinzinger) into two districts, created a new Schaumburg-Elgin district for Duckworth (who beat Walsh), made Republican Judy Biggert’s south DuPage County district unwinnable by adding Joliet, and took enough Cook County precincts out of the North Shore 10th District to enable Schneider to beat incumbent Bob Dold by 3,326 votes. Dold had won in 2010 by 4,651 votes after Mark Kirk vacated the seat to win the race for U.S. senator. The Western Illinois district of Bobby Schilling (R-17) also was made much more Democratic, with the addition of minority precincts from Rockford and Peoria, and he lost to Boustos.

If the Democrats are to gain the 17 seats they need to reclaim a House majority and restore Pelosi to the speakership, they can ill afford to lose any Illinois seats. Here’s the outlook:

10th District: When Kirk was the incumbent, the Democrats foundered. The district contained a sizable chunk of the North Shore suburbs in the 2000s, stretching from Wilmette and Glencoe on the Lakefront to Palatine. There were 290 precincts in Cook County, where Kirk always ran well, and about 275 in Lake County, extending from Deerfield to Waukegan. Dan Seals lost to Kirk in 2006 and 2008 and to Dold in 2010, both times carrying Lake County by a narrow margin but losing Cook County by upwards of 10,000 votes.

Obama won the district in 2008 by 181,071-114,035, a 67,036-vote margin over John McCain, but Kirk beat Seals 153,082-138,176, a 14,802-vote margin. Amazingly, about 45,000 people voted for Obama and Kirk.

The Washington Democrats were frustrated. How could a pro-Obama liberal district like the 10th vote for a fiscally conservative, socially moderate Republican like Kirk? This should be a Democratic-held seat, they wailed. To their rescue came Mike Madigan, the boss of Springfield. In the 2011 remap, the Cook County portion of the new district was pared from 290 precincts to 110 precincts, with Palatine, Wheeling and Arlington Heights chopped out. The Lake County portion increased to 309 precincts, extending to Zion at the Wisconsin border and adding more minority areas. In 2010 the district was 15 percent Hispanic, while in 2012 it was 21 percent.

Dold, who won 109,941-105,290 in 2010 over the better known (but pro-"Obamacare") Seals, was in dire jeopardy. Democratic leaders decreed no fourth run for Seals, and they were eagerly searching for a Jewish woman to run. None surfaced. Schneider, an obscure Jewish Deerfield businessman, emerged from the 2012 primary with just 47 percent of the vote.

However, the remap did the trick. Ticket splitters abounded in 2012, but less so than in 2008. The Obama/Schneider vote was 157,400/133,890, while the Romney/Dold vote was 112,552/130,564. That means that upwards of 20,000 people voted for Obama and Dold. The Republican lost by 3,326 votes.

As the Schneider-Dold rematch unfolds, several factors are notable:

First, Schneider is uncharismatic, unmotivational, uninspiring and still largely unknown. "To call him bland may be overly complimentary," said one Lake County Democratic worker, who noted that the 2012 Obama/Schneider "ground game" (precinct work) is not being duplicated in 2014. "There’s no sense of urgency" to re-elect Schneider, the worker said.

More critically, Schneider has not "defined" himself. He has not co-opted any particular issue or associated himself with any particular cause. Nathan Gonzales, an analyst for the Rothenberg Political Report, noted that Dold is better known than Schneider in the district. Schneider has begun airing some television ads trying to tie Dold to the Tea Party. In short, Schneider realizes he can win only by demonizing Dold.

Second, Dold, who runs his family’s pest exterminating business, is a veritable money-raising machine. In the past three election cycles, from 2009 through 2014, Dold has raised $9,855,046, and in 2012 he outspent Schneider $4,569,085-$3,043,849. Schneider out-raised Dold through June 30 by $2,842,775-$2,300,873. Money wins elections.

Third, Obama’s positions on the Middle East, his "two state" policy on Palestine and his tepid support of recent Israeli attacks in Gaza and the Jordanian border, do not endear him to the district’s Jewish voters, which constitute about 15 to 20 percent of the electorate. Orthodox Jews are especially distraught. If Dold’s longstanding pro-Israel position chips off a fifth of the Jewish vote, it might be enough to win.

Fourth, there’s a hostile political environment. A wave may not be building against Obama and the Democrats, but in Illinois, from Pat Quinn down the ballot, the Democrats are on the defensive because they’re in control. Bruce Rauner will beat Quinn 55-45 in the district.

In off-year non-presidential elections, the electorate is significantly less unpoor, unwhite and unyoung. Non-voters are the key. In 2008 the 10th District turnout for president was 295,106, while in 2010 the turnout for Congress was 215,231. Of that 80,000-odd drop-off, at least three-quarters were pro-Obama voters. Turnout in the new 10th District in 2012 turnout was 269,952, with Obama getting 58 percent of the vote. If the Nov. 4 turnout dives under 210,000, Dold will be going back to Washington.

8th District: Unlike Schneider, Bangkok-born U.S. Representative Tammy Duckworth is the Democrats’ dream candidate for U.S. senator in 2016. She’s boisterous, opinionated, liberal and Teflon-coated. How can anybody attack a female Army helicopter pilot who lost parts of both legs in Iraq, and who now is pregnant?

In 2012, in the Madigan-drawn district, Duckworth clobbered Walsh, who moved into the district from Barrington, 123,206-101,860. Obama won the district, which is 23 percent Hispanic, 7 percent black and 13 percent Asian, 133,208-94,944. Duckworth was almost as popular as Obama.

The district includes plenty of once-Republican areas, such as Schaumburg, Carpentersville, Roselle, East Dundee, Elgin and Hoffman Estates, but Romney got a pathetic 41 percent of the vote in 2012, so the Republican base has collapsed. The 2014 Republican candidate is Larry Kaifesh, a 23-year U.S. Marines veteran who is a colonel in the Marine Corps Reserve. Kaifesh is running this year to set himself up for Duckworth’s open seat in 2016, when she takes a crack at Kirk. Duckworth has raised $1,967,481, to $240,643 for Kaifesh.
If Kaifesh, who has been campaigning energetically, tops 40 percent of the vote, he’ll get a second chance.

12th District: If Schneider has a blandness problem, first-termer Enyart has a pulse problem in this far Southern Illinois district, which includes East Saint Louis and which traditionally is Democratic. He is so low-key that some ask whether he is alive. Has he defined himself? He has barely identified himself.

The last Republican congressman from the area was elected in 1942. The next Republican congressman will be Mike Bost, a combative 20-year state representative from Murphysboro, whose rant on the House floor is the subject of Enyart’s television ads. Obama squeaked out a 153,718-149,165 win in 2012, after he won 179,180-142,723 in 2008 — a 26,000-vote drop-off. Clearly, the 12th District is no longer part of the "Obama Nation." Enyart, an attorney and a National Guard officer who replaced the Democratic nominee who quit, sort of lucked into the seat. He won 157,000-129,902 against a big-spending Republican. This year’s election will be different. "Quinn is cratering" Downstate, Gonzales said. An anti-Democratic, anti-Quinn, anti-Obama wave will sweep Enyart out.

17th District: Like Dold, Schilling had a tough row to hoe. The pizza company owner won in 2010 by 104,583-85,454 over complacent incumbent Phil Hare. Madigan’s remap sliced out Republican Quincy and added Rockford and Peoria. The Obama/Boustos vote was 168,796/158,519 in 2012, and the Romney/Schilling vote was 119,789/134,623.The district is too Democratic for Schilling to win in the rematch.

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