Tucked away in downtown Naperville, just a few blocks apart, are the campaign offices of Democrat Rep. Bill Foster and his Republican rival, state Rep. Darlene Senger.
Senger’s folks work from rooms with a pleasant view of the DuPage River in a building facing a wrecking ball in a few months.
Foster’s staff sits, for now, in a tiny, stuffy cell hidden behind a barber shop.
As the Senger and Foster teams crank up for the November election from their outposts, Foster starts with a commanding lead in the money race to win. Senger has almost nothing in her war chest.
Senger faces enormous pressure to produce campaign cash by the end of the next quarter, June 30, in order to remain viable.
“Right now, my focus is entirely on fundraising,” Senger told me.
Indeed, of the five most competitive House races in Illinois, Senger has the distinction of being the biggest financial underdog of the lot.
At this stage, the money chase is the story in the battle for the Illinois 11th congressional district, which takes in parts of Aurora, Joliet and swatches of Chicago’s western suburbs.
As of March 31, Foster reported $1,184,890 cash-on-hand, according to new Federal Election Commission reports. Senger had $40,884 in the bank.
To compare new cash-on-hand figures for other major Illinois House contests where Republicans are challenging Democratic incumbents:
In the north suburban 10th district, Democratic Rep. Brad Schneider has $1,351,027 to GOP former Rep. Bob Dold’s $1,285,122.
In the downstate 12th district, Democratic Rep. Bill Enyart has $555,027 to GOP challenger Mike Bost’s $200,618.
In the northwest Illinois 17th district, Democratic Rep. Cheri Bustos has $1,121,076 to GOP former Rep. Bobby Schilling’s $332,115.
To further illustrate the incumbent edge, in the downstate 13th district, where the race is competitive, Republican Rep. Rodney Davis has $951,903 over his Democratic rival, Ann Callis, with $513,897.
Not counting Senger out at all, the National Republican Congressional Committee last month elevated her to its “contenders” list of candidates who will get the most help from the House GOP political shop.
That sends a signal to the GOP donor community that the NRCC believes in Senger, which should help her fundraising. Senger is also known as a hard worker.
There are reasons, of course, why Foster is sitting on much political cash. He did not have a primary opponent, so he did not have to bankroll a campaign. And he picked up a chunk of political action committee money, which flows to members of Congress in both parties.
It is also much easier to coax checks from individual local and national donors who prefer to fund winners.
In 2012, Foster, who lost his Illinois House seat in 2010, made a comeback, beating Rep. Judy Biggert by an impressive margin: 17 points. The 11th district map, drawn by Democrats in Springfield, is designed to give a Democrat a built-in advantage, and Senger can’t do much about the fact that she is running in Democratic vote-rich turf.
Senger won her four-way March 18 Illinois GOP primary, where some of the big Chicago money — that is, from the Illinois Republican business establishment— banked on one of her rivals, Bert Miller.
Miller came in third, even with a $53,000 boost from the one super PAC that played in that primary contest — the Chicago-based New Prosperity Foundation, chaired by business mogul Ron Gidwitz, who launched the group with Greg Baise, president and CEO of the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association.
Senger told me that Chicago money should be coming and money from the Hinsdale crowd — another pool of Republican cash.
“I know the goals we are trying to make, the work we are trying to do to get there,” Senger told me. So I feel pretty good that we’re going to start to pop pretty quick to get to those levels.”
The NRCC chairman, Rep. Gregg Walden, R-Ore., told me he is optimistic about Senger’s chances.
Senger “beat back the Madigan machine when he tried to take her out,” Walden said, noting that Senger bested the candidated backed by Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, in her state House run.
“She is one of the leaders of our women’s candidates efforts and is going to be a very effective and successful candidate.”