Wednesday, August 08, 2007

"Blame the Republicans" - by Russ Stewart

[Russ has asked me to post these columns every week.]

ANALYSIS & OPINION BY RUSS STEWART

News flash (Autumn 2006): Democratic House minority leader Nancy Pelsoi proclaims that “Democrats are prepared to govern and ready to lead.”

News flash (November 2006): Democrats win control of Congress for the first time since 1994, gaining 28 House seats and six Senate seats, for majorities of 232-203 and 51-49, respectively.

News flash (January 2007): Speaker Pelosi promises enactment of Democratic agenda within 100 hours. That became 100 days. And now it’s past 200 days. How about 2009?

News flash (Summer 2007): Senate majority leader Harry Reid rebuts Republican charges that the 110th Congress is a “do-nothing Congress.” Reid said that “it’s taking a little longer.”

News flash (Summer 2007): Blame it on the Republicans. Maryland’s Chris Van Hollen, chairman of the Democratic House Campaign Committee, blames Senate Republicans for blocking Senate Democrats from passing House-enacted bills.
Over 200 House bills have been sent to the Senate.

As set forth in the adjoining vote chart, House Democrats have passed some meaningful legislation: $120 billion for the Iraq War, the 2008 budget resolution, a minimum wage hike, stem cell and human cloning funding, 9/11 Commission recommendations, and restrictions on appointments of U.S. Attorneys.

But voters expected a lot more. Recent polling shows Congress’ approval rating below 25 percent, which is lower than George Bush’s, and lower than that of the Republican-controlled 109th Congress (2005-2006). House Democratic strategists are confused and concerned. They sense that voters will want a change in 2008, and a Democrat will win the presidency, perhaps in a landslide. But they also sense that prospects for gaining more seats are being stifled by the Democrats’ disappointing congressional performance.

In Illinois, however, the Democrats’ 10-9 edge in the House delegation won’t change, primarily due to Democratic recruiting failures. Here’s the 2008 outlook:

6th District (western Cook County suburbs, DuPage County): Republican Peter Roskam won this open seat in 2006 by just 4,810 votes (51.4 percent), beating the much-hyped Tammy Duckworth, an Army helicopter pilot who lost both legs in Iraq. Roskam raised $2,888,932, and Duckworth $3,269,173. In addition, the national parties spent voluminous amounts on Chicago media market buys: $3.17 million for Duckworth, and $3.36 million for Roskam.

Duckworth carried the Cook County portion of the district by 1,968 votes, but lost DuPage by 6,778 votes. After her defeat, Duckworth was appointed director of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs.

Duckworth won’t run again in 2008, nor will Christine Cegelis, who lost to then-incumbent Henry Hyde in 2002 and 2004, and lost the 2006 Democratic primary. With $544,735 on-hand as of July 1, and with no credible 2008 foe, the conservative Roskam is a cinch for re-election.

18th District (Peoria, Springfield suburbs, 16 rural counties): Republican incumbent Ray LaHood is retiring after seven terms, and Democrats thought they had the perfect nominee in State Senator John Sullivan, from suburban Quincy. But Sullivan’s seat is up in 2008, and he decided to seek re-election. The likely Democrat is former Quincy Mayor Chuck Scholz. Republican contenders may include State Representatives Aaron Schock and Dave Leitch, and former legislator Jeff Mays. A Republican will replace LaHood.

14th District (Kane, Kendall, DeKalb and four rural counties): Longtime (1998-2006) Republican House Speaker Dennis Hastert lost his post to Pelosi in 2007, but might stick around if he could regain it in 2009. That would require a net Republican gain of 15 seats in 2008 – which is highly unlikely.

If he retires, a nasty Republican primary will ensue. Possible contenders include Hastert staffer Mike Stokke, State Senator Chris Lauzen, State Representative Tim Schmitz, Geneva Mayor Kevin Burns, Kane County chairwoman Karen McConnaughay, and dairy magnate Jim Oberweis, who lost statewide primaries in 2002, 2004 and 2006. If the arch-conservative, anti-immigration Oberweis wins, a Democrat would have a chance.

But the Democratic field is distinctly inauspicious: 2006 loser John Laesch, physicist Bill Foster, and attorney Jotham Stein. State Representative Linda Chapa LaVia, like Sullivan, won’t give up her House seat to run. Hence, a Republican will keep the seat.

The adjoining vote chart includes six area Representatives: Democrats Rahm Emanuel, Jan Schakowsky, Dan Lipinski, and Luis Gutierrez, all from Chicago-dominated districts, and Republicans Roskam and Mark Kirk, from suburban districts. All but Lipinski and Kirk are safe in 2008. Here’s the outlook:

10th District (Cook County’s North Shore and east Lake County): Kirk had a scare in 2006, defeating Democrat Dan Seals by just 13,651 votes (53.4 percent). Kirk won in 2004 by 78,275 votes, and in 2002 by 70,311 votes. Clearly, dissatisfaction with the Iraq War and the Bush Administration took a toll. Kirk, a liberal on social issues, has been supportive of Iraq policy. Kirk spent $3.1 million, and Seals $1.9 million.

In 2007, Kirk voted against 20,000 more troops, but opposed the Democrats’ withdrawal deadline. Seals, a marketing executive, is running again, proclaiming himself the “anti-war candidate.” He faces opposition in the Democratic primary from Jay Footlik, a business consultant. According to July 1 fundraising disclosures, Kirk had $1.1 million on-hand, to Seals’ $265,000 and Footlik’s $274,000.

The outlook: If the Iraq situation is not resolved by November 2008, if the Democratic presidential candidate runs on a get-out-of-Iraq platform, if national Democrats dump $3 million into Seals’ campaign, and if Kirk doesn’t totally disavow the Bush Administration’s Iraq policy, he will lose. Right now, he’s still a narrow favorite.

3rd District (Chicago’s Southwest Side and adjacent suburbs): Dan Lipinski is his father’s son, and therein lies his problem. Young Dan was a college professor in Tennessee when his dad, longtime incumbent (1983-2004) Bill Lipinski, decided to retire in 2004 – after he was renominated, and just before the deadline for naming a replacement. Bill Lipinski is a Daley loyalist and 23rd Ward Democratic committeeman. When the committeemen met to pick a new nominee, Dan was the only candidate. The media, and a lot of voters, were upset about the Sneaky Selection. So what else is new? Todd Stroger got his dad’s job, as have many others.

In Congress, Dan Lipinski voted (as did his dad) conservative on social issues, opposing abortion rights, stem cell research, and human cloning. He had a primary challenge in 2006 from John Kelly and John Sullivan, but won with 54.5 percent. In 2008, Mark Pera, an assistant Cook County State’s Attorney, is set to run, and will definitely attack Lipinski from the left. But as long as the powerhouse 11th, 13th and 19th Ward Democratic Organizations stick with the Big Lipper, the Lil’ Lipper won’t be beat.

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