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National Dems: ‘Road to majority’ in Congress ‘goes through Illinois’

Tammy Duckworth is flanked by her husbBryan Bowlsbey her mother JuliQuezadas she makes her victory speech 8th Congressional District Tuesday.

Tammy Duckworth is flanked by her husband Bryan Bowlsbey and her mother Julia Quezada as she makes her victory speech in the 8th Congressional District Tuesday. | TOM CRUZE~Sun-Times

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Updated: April 23, 2012 11:35AM

Washington Democrats are hoping Illinois voters will help swing the balance of power in Congress.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee announced Wednesday that it is putting five Illinois congressional seats in it’s top-level “Red-to-Blue” list of seats it hopes to pick up in November.

“The road to the majority goes through Illinois,” said Steve Israel, committee chairman.

Democrats need to pick up 25 seats to retake the majority in the House of Representatives, and Illinois represents one of the highest concentrations of potential pick-ups.

Top on the list is Tammy Duckworth in the newly redrawn northwest suburban 8th Congressional District. Democrats crunched the numbers in the precincts of the new district and determined it went 62 percent for President Barack Obama in 2008. Republicans note it also went 51 percent for Republican Mark Kirk.

Duckworth faces outspoken Republican Rep. Joe Walsh in November.

“Tammy is a heroic veteran, Walsh a Tea Party icon, who’s so extreme he’s doubling down on his extremism,” Israel said. “He cares more about shouting on cable television than he does about creating jobs or protecting Medicare for senior citizens.”

Duckworth beat Raja Krishnamoorthi in Tuesday’s primary. Immediately after she won, Walsh challenged her to a series of debates.

Next on the list is the North Shore 10th Congressional District, which has not been represented by a Democrat in decades but which has been redrawn into a district whose new precincts went 64 percent for Obama and 55 percent for John Kerry.

Financial consultant Brad Schneider, 50, won a hard-fought Democratic primary contest against Ilya Sheyman, 25, a political organizer Republicans thought would be easier to beat in November.

Israel said he would have put the district on the red-to-blue list either way just because of the demographics. But Illinois Democratic leaders think Schneider will be an easier sell in the socially liberal but fiscally moderate-to-conservative district.

“He is not an ideologue — he is about solutions — he is a perfect fit for his district, in contrast to [freshman Republican Bob] Dold who gives lip service to being a moderate but votes like Michele Bachmann.”

Dold notes his district has the most pro-Obama votes of any congressional district in the country represented by a Republican, but he argues he has built up a moderate pro choice-on-abotion record. The district went 54 percent for Kirk, who represented the old 10th in Congress before moving up to the Senate.

Israel paid tribute to Sheyman, saying, “Ilya Sheyman ran a great primary. He revved up our grass roots.”

The 17th Congressional District in northwestern Illinois, where “working mom” Cheri Bustos will face freshman congressman and pizza restaurant owner Bobby Schilling, is the next-best hope, Israel said. That district went 60.9 percent for Obama. But two years ago, it went 53 percent for conservative Republican Bill Brady for governor.

Scientist, business owner and former Rep. Bill Foster puts the new west suburban 11th Congressional District “in play,” Israel said. Longtime Congresswoman Judy Biggert was drawn out of her own district and so has moved into this new one that connects Joliet and Aurora. Foster has also moved in.

“Foster has out-raised Biggert every quarter,” Israel said. That district went 55 percent for Obama.

Foster beat two opponents for the nomination Tuesday.

Republicans note Biggert has 47 percent of her constituents in the new district; Foster has only 26 percent of his former constituents in the district.

Downstate Democrat Jerry Costello announced his retirement, leaving his district in what the Cook Political Report calls a “toss-up” whether it stays Democrat or turns Republican.

Costello’s chosen successor, Brad Harriman, a teacher and football coach, won the primary election Tuesday. He will face former unsuccessful candidate for lieutenant governor Jason Plummer, a vice president of his parents’ R.P. Lumber Co.

Plummer’s refusal to release his income taxes was an issue in his lieutenant governor race, and Israel said it will be an issue in this one too.

Israel put that district on the red-to-blue list even though it is currently represented by a Democrat.

Votes are still being counted in the central Illinois 13th Congressional District to see which Democrat faces incumbent Rep. Tim Johnson. Depending on how that counting goes, Israel said he would decide whether to add that district to the red-to-blue list.

Being put on the red-to-blue list is the Democratic Party’s way of green-lighting donors to pour money into a race they see as winnable.

Republicans will likewise pour money into these races, so the break Illinois voters are getting today from negative advertising may be short-lived.

Illinois may be the state in which President Obama has the best or only coat-tails to help bring fellow Democrats along, depending on what his popularity is in November.

The DCCC had previously announced 18 other districts around the country as Red-to-Blue pick-up hopes. California, with three, had the most. Now Illinois with five, has the highest concentration.

The Republicans call California and Illinois “orphan states,” meaning they expect Obama to win the states, but they think they can hold or even expand the number of congressional seats they hold in those states.

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