Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Choice in the 11th Could Boost All GOP Fortunes

In the classic movie, Jaws, while tossing chum out the back of a boat, Police Chief Brody catches his first sight of the monstrous size of the killer shark he and his two companions are hunting. Shrinking back in terror, he turns to Captain Quint and, in bewildered horror, says, “We’re going to need a bigger boat.” One suspects that New Lenox Mayor Tim Baldermann had much the same feeling as he realized just what was involved in running a competitive race for Congress these days.

After winning the Republican nomination to fill the open seat in Illinois 11th District, left by retiring Congressman Jerry Weller, Baldermann dropped out of the race last week. He cited the press of current obligations, including raising five children, serving as Mayor of New Lenox, and police chief of Chicago Ridge. Republican leaders are scrambling to come up with a replacement to face the popular and well-known Democrat, State Sen. Debbie Halvorson. National Democrats had already targeted the district as one of their best pick-up opportunities in the country. This blow is seen by many as emblematic of a coming Republican rout. Yet as disheartening as it seems at first glance it may actually enhance the chances of Republicans not only to hold the 11th, but in other Illinois districts as well.

By the account of all Republican leaders in the district, Baldermann is an estimable man of much accomplishment. The problem was he had little district-wide name recognition and less money going into a battle with a very well-known opponent. What he had going for him initially was that he was from Will County, which dominates the district. In the scramble now to replace him, residence in Will County is not going to be the prime asset it was earlier. Party leaders have to find someone who has the best means (name recognition, money, resume) of defending this seat. The truth is, privately Democrats had already counted this seat as won and Republicans were privately conceding it lost.

Some are touting State Rep. Rene Kozol as the best candidate. She is, after all, from Will County and has served 11 years in the state legislature. But again, she lacks the district-wide name recognition and the ability to put significant money of her own into the race. For Republicans this cycle it is optimal to have both – and critical to have at least one. Two other potential candidates have at least one of the components, though neither resides in Will County.

State Sen. Christine Radogno is fresh off a very credible run for State Treasurer in a very bad year. She and State Sen. Dan Rutherford (who ran for Secretary of State) were the two brightest spots for the GOP on the state ticket in that dismal cycle. She starts with great name recognition and a large fundraising base (besides her statewide run, her daughter served as scheduler to Weller). She is a moderate Republican who works to build bridges rather than trade insults with the conservative base of her party. In a normal year she would be the perfect candidate for this swing district. Despite long being held by Republicans, it is a swing district.
But this year, when Democrats are feeling their oats and all Illinois Republicans must prepare for what is likely to be a heavy Obama-surge of Democrats at the polls, sending a moderate Republican woman against a liberal Democratic woman may not be the best strategy. She is unlikely to pull enough moderate voters off the Democrat to tip the balance. She would need to excite the conservative Republican base to offset the advantages Halvorson starts with. Still, she starts with far more resources than Baldermann had.

Another potential candidate, though he does not live in the district, is State Sen. Chris Lauzen. He just came off the losing end of a bitter primary battle with Jim Oberweis for the Republican nomination to replace former Speaker of the House Denny Hastert in the 14th District. Calling it a primary battle doesn’t really do it justice. It was more akin to watching what would happen if you tossed two cats in a sack and tied it to a ceiling fan. Both men had been previously regarded as conservative champions. So the bitter infighting produced the ungainly spectacle of factions of the same faction bitterly denouncing each other, deeply dividing the base in the 14th District – and beyond. That bitterness was underscored by the initially ungracious behavior of Lauzen following his loss. So why even consider appointing a sore loser who helped divide the base? Practical politics, my friend.

Lauzen starts off with strong name recognition, even if it is not all positive, because of that high-profile race. He also carries some residual recognition from his race for Comptroller 10 years ago. From that race and the near proximity of his senate district to the 11th Lauzen would not start out a stranger to the district. He has some of his own money; not a lot, but some. He is a bona fide hero to most of the conservative base of the party. He would energize that base in the 11th District. In a cycle where moderates are most likely to go Democrat, that is an important asset. Once energized, he would deploy that base well, as he is one of the most gifted grass-roots politicians in the state.

Perhaps most importantly, naming Lauzen would give a real chance to heal the deep rifts in the Republican Party in the 14th and the 11th, allowing conservative partisans to quit fighting each other and get to the business of energetically fighting Democrats. The 14th is not the two-to-one bastion of Republicans that the media often make it out to be. But it is a good 58% baseline Republican District. The fallout from that ugly primary has made it suddenly competitive. Appointing Lauzen to the Republican nomination in the 11th could both make the 11th genuinely competitive and simultaneously deprive Democrats of a plausible chance for a ‘bonus’ pickup in the 14th. That scenario only holds if both Lauzen and Oberweis make a genuine and compelling show of unity with each other.

But either Lauzen or Radogno would make the 11th genuinely competitive, forcing Democrats to deploy resources and time there. That takes some pressure off the 14th and off of Congressman Mark Kirk’s seat in the 10th District. Democrats have been salivating; hoping things might get so bad they could even make a serious go again at Congressman Peter Roskam in the 6th District. As things stood a week ago, Democrats thought they were very likely to pick up two seats in Illinois; with a little break they could pick up three; and with strong prevailing winds, perhaps even pull off four.

If Republicans are shrewd in their selection in the 11th, they could utterly reverse those odds, taking Roskam’s seat out of serious Democratic calculations altogether. Both the 11th and the 10th become races on their own merits rather than potential casualties in a Democratic blitzkrieg and the 14th becomes much safer as a likely Republican hold.

In this case, Republican leaders in the 11th District are in the very unusual position of playing a huge role not only in who their candidate will be, but in how good Republican prospects in much of the rest of the state.

Cross-posted at Illinois Review

14 comments:

Pat Collins 4:19 PM  

So, Kirk and Roskam should be calling Lauzen, offering bucks, and moral support, right? :)

I am still shocked Obie beat him.

Gomack,  4:48 PM  

Hey, what's Alan Keyes up to?

RoskamSockemRobot,  4:53 PM  

Well, if you're looking for an out-of-district candidate with "residual name recognition" from a 10-year-old race, then there's someone else who fits the bill!

That's right, you guessed it:

AL SALVI!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Anonymous,  11:58 PM  

If Lauzen runs, he has a chance of pulling off a rare trifecta of losing 3 congressional races within 9 months.

Skeeter 8:53 AM  

Interesting.
What Charlie fails to mention is that the district is a symbol of the failures of both the ILGOP and the national party.
For a seat that the GOP has held as long as I can remember, the GOP made no efforts to see that their candidate was properly funded.
That's a huge difference between the Dems and the GOP. The Dems would never have permitted that. Rahm would have been kicking the candidate around for months for the lack of fundraising, but the GOP apparently did nothing until after the primary.
It is almost like the GOP just doesn't care.

Anonymous,  9:19 AM  

Although the GOP leadership would prefer a Will County candidate, Lauzen would be the perfect choice. The rift between Lauzen and Oberweiss is much smaller than many think. i have talked to both guys. They have said that the heat of the political contest unfortunately made them quick to respond to real and imagined assaults on their character. But, both guys actually respect each other. They may not rush to say that publicly yet but that is the reality of their contest.

Chris Lauzen will definitely energize the District 11 Republicans and God knows that is what is needed. Balderman is a good guy who is child-like in his political expertise. It is a blessing that he dropped out. Lauzen knows how to get things done. Give Lauzen some moral and financial backing from Andy McKenna and other state GOP leadership and Lauzen can still pull this one out of the fire.

If the GOP leadership (by the way, is there actually GOP leadership behind the curtain?) waits and sits on their dead rumps on this one, they will maintain their record much like the Chicago Cubs.

Anonymous,  10:26 AM  

The best candidate would be Chris McNeil of Frankfort. He has major name recogniton and is charismatic. Chris wants this seat and doesnt have to be drafted.

Anonymous,  10:48 AM  

Charlie your conclusions are all wrong. Have you actually spent any time in the 11th District in the last five years?

How can Chris Lauzen, who got creamed in his own district, expect to be a viable candidate in the 11th? Charlie is just making a play for a contract here, my friends.

It is obvious that you know very little about this district and can't even spell Renee Kosel's name correctly.

This is more garbage being spewed by a second-rate hack. Hey, Charlie, I thought you were going to run against Phil Hare?

If so, don't take your own advice, otherwise you'll end up like your former employers: Zinga, McSweeney, and Churchill. All two-time losers, based on your "political consulting."

Jon Zahm,  11:50 AM  

I could say a lot more, but fact is that Chris is NOT interested and please stop floating his name for it which exposes him to more of nasty attacks.

Anonymous,  1:22 PM  

Chris McNeil is the clear choice here. He has name ID, a grassroots organization, and the ability to raise money if he is the nominee.

Chris is an honest, thoughtful person who would make voters in the 11th District proud as their Congressman.

We can not concede this district, which has been in Republican hands for the last fourteen years to the Democrats.

I hope that the county chairman see in Chris what I do and they make sure they make a decision, sooner rather than later, so that we can keep this seat.

Extreme Wisdom 6:42 PM  

Skeeter nailed it.

This situation is evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that the IL GOP (and the NRCC) is completely worthless.

It almost as if the they purposefully sold out the seat.

No farm team, no money, no seats.

The fact that they "need" or "want" self funders is merely another manifestation of their incompetence, and that goes triple for the NRCC DC clowns that are now in the middle of their own accounting scandal.

Hastert/IL ethics has done wonders for the National Party, Huh?

Stick a fork in the party in IL. It's done.

Anonymous,  7:15 PM  

Chris McNeil would be the worst candidate for the Republicans to look at. Hes not even well liked in Will County. If I had a candidate that I would push for this, it would be Dan Brady.

Anonymous,  7:42 PM  

Skeeter-

You must be young not to remember George Sangmeister and Roman Pucinski (Aurelia's dad). Weller de Sosa is a recent inhabitant of this blue collar and ag district that has often leaned D.

Extreme-

OTOH, the Governor's and others ethical lapses have not put a dent in the Democratic Party here; it's getting stronger in spite of the circus. Rubber and glue, I guess.

Anonymous,  4:35 AM  

Radogno? Sure. Lauzen? Not so much.

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