If there's one race that could tell the true size of the expected Republican wave this fall, it may very well be Rep. Phil Hare's reelection bid in Illinois' 17th Congressional District.

To say that Democrats began the year not worrying about Hare's reelection chances would be an understatement. The two-term congressman ran unopposed in 2008 and until earlier this month, Hare hadn't run a TV ad since 2006.

But Republican Bobby Schilling is making a race of it in the 17th and the contest has quickly moved into tossup territory.

Like most Republican challengers this cycle, Schilling has focused on Hare's voting record, tying the incumbent to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and repeatedly hitting Hare's support for cap-and-trade and the recently-enacted healthcare law.

Hare's district is telling since it's a relatively favorable one for Democrats, stretching from Rock Island in the northwestern part of the state down through central Illinois and Springfield, carefully drawn to incorporate more Democratic territory.

But between a deflated Democratic base and the national environment in 2010, the district isn't even close to Democratic enough to let Hare to breathe easy ahead of November.

Schilling hasn't garnered the full attention of national conservatives just yet, but he did win an endorsement from Rep. Michele BachmannMichele Marie BachmannPawlenty opts out of Senate run in Minnesota US ambassador repeated debunked claim that Abedin has 'egregious' ties to Muslim Brotherhood Bachmann considering running for Franken's seat MORE (R-Minn.), who said, "It's time to retire Phil Hare," in a videotaped endorsement she recorded for Schilling's campaign.

In a sign Hare is taking the challenge from Schilling seriously, his first ad of the contest went right after the Republican, criticizing Schilling's support for a trade deal with South Korea that Hare said would send thousands of Illinois jobs overseas.

Schilling is yet to fire back on the airwaves, but one characteristic of the district that could work in his favor is that it's relatively cheap to cover the 17th with TV ads. 

Republicans think the incumbent offered Schilling some ammunition this spring when he said after being challenged by a Tea Party backer at a town hall forum on the constitutionality of health care reform, "I don't worry about the Constitution on this to be honest."

At the moment, the two are battling over debates with Schilling accusing Hare of ducking appearances with him. Hare proposed two debates that would have aired on public television ahead of November, but Schilling wants a series of town hall forums. 

Hare told the Quad-City Times that he doesn't want to participate in Schilling's proposed forums, accusing his opponent of wanting to organize a "shout-a-thon" where Schilling backers would heckle the congressman. 

On Wednesday, Hare hit Schilling for $5,800 in campaign contributions the Republican received from the company Cintas. In calling on Schilling to return the cash, Hare cited the death of one of the company's employees in an on-site accident for which the company was hit with a fine from OSHA two years ago.

In response, Schilling accused Hare of trying to politicize the incident but didn't say whether the candidate intended to return the money.

There has only been one public poll in the race, an automated survey of registered voters from We Ask America, which gave Schilling a three-point edge over Hare.

Last month, Republicans touted internal numbers that showed Schilling down just two points to the incumbent, leading GOP pollster Glen Bolger to label Hare "one of the most vulnerable incumbents in the country."