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Former U.S. rep, two other Dems, compete to face Biggert in 11th District

U.S. Rep. Bill Foster

U.S. Rep. Bill Foster

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Candidate questionnaires: Eleventh Congressional District, Democrats
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Updated: February 16, 2012 2:42PM

A cheat sheet might come in handy for keeping straight who is running against whom in the 11th Congressional District’s Democratic primary.

Jim Hickey is running against Bill Foster, the former congressman with the biggest name in the race. There is a third candidate in the race, Juan Thomas, but Hickey is aiming his arrows at Foster.

Juan Thomas is running against both Foster and Hickey who, as Thomas constantly points out, didn’t grow up in the district. Foster moved into the district just last fall. Hickey still doesn’t live there.

And then there’s Bill Foster, who is running against U.S. Rep. Judy Biggert. This might seem curious, because Biggert is the Republican candidate and Foster still has to prevail in the Democratic primary — defeating Thomas and Hickey — before he can take her on in the fall general election. But Foster is the presumed front-runner in this race, having been a congressman before and having raised 10 times more campaign money than either of his opponents. And this is what front-runners in primaries do — campaign as if the real horse race is in November.

It’s a strategy that can backfire, of course, unless the candidate really does have the race in the bag. Consider Mitt Romney, who has tried a couple of times to ignore his opponents in the Republican presidential primaries and set his sights on President Barack Obama. No sooner would Romney do so than an opponent — Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum — would win a state primary or two and whack that air of inevitability right out of him.

Foster, 56, a physicist and wealthy businessman, is seeking election in a newly drawn district that includes many communities — including Aurora — that were part of the old 14th District, where he twice was elected to Congress. He was defeated for re-election two years ago by Republican Randy Hultgren. A poll taken back in June, before the current primary race even began, showed that 41 percent of the new district’s voters knew who he was, and he was well-liked.

The new 11th District also includes all or parts of Naperville, Woodridge, Bolingbrook and Joliet.

Thomas, 41, a lawyer and former Aurora Township clerk, argues that his lifelong residence in the district, where he grew up working in his father’s restaurant, makes him particularly sensitive to the district’s needs. And one thing they need, he says, is a congressman who votes more like a staunch Democratic, unlike the politically moderate Foster.

Thomas’ more progressive stands on many issues may account for his being endorsed by 22 members of Congress, including Representatives Danny Davis and Jesse L. Jackson of Illinois. That kind of support is uncommon for a first-time candidate for Congress.

Foster can boast an impressive endorsement roster of his own, including Secretary of State Jesse White and the Illinois AFL-CIO.

Hickey, 39, president of the Orland Fire Protection District, presents himself as the regular guy in this race, keen on representing “common working-class people.” He has been running a low-cost but aggressive shoe-leather campaign, shooting off emails critical of Foster, and he says he has visited 17,000 homes in the district.

To create new jobs, Hickey favors a flat 20 percent corporate tax rate and the elimination of all taxes on profits made by American companies overseas. Among other proposals, he would create a national lottery that he estimates would pull in $12 billion a year, to fund education.

Hickey once filed for bankruptcy, which he has tried to spin as a positive in this campaign, saying 5 million other Americans also have filed for bankruptcy in this bad economy — so he understands their suffering. He blames the economy on “poor leadership” in Washington by the likes of Foster.

About half of Biggert’s 13th District, which she represents now, is included in the new 11th District, The new 11th leans Democratic, but she will be a force to reckon with in November no matter who wins the Democratic primary.

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