In what is shaping up to be a dismal November for Democrats, Illinois's 10th congressional district, tucked in the northeastern corner of the state, could be a bright spot. It's one of only a handful of districts across the country where the party stands a real shot at picking up a seat in 2010.
The race is an open-seat contest courtesy of Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), who decided to step aside after five terms to run for Senate. Kirk is currently locked in a tight race with Democrat Alexi Giannoulias for President Obama's former Senate seat.
Democrat Dan Seals is hoping the third time will be the charm in this Democrat-leaning district. Seals has challenged Kirk twice before, losing in both 2006 and 2008. Even President Obama's overwhelming win in the district two years ago wasn't enough to help Seals overcome Kirk.
Obama beat Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) handily in the district, winning 61 percent of the vote. But Kirk edged Seals, 53 percent to 47.
In November, Seals faces Republican businessman Robert Dold, who is running as a centrist Republican in the mold of Kirk, a must for this Illinois district where Democrats hold a party-registration edge. The 10th district comprises the northern suburbs of Chicago and parts of Cook and Lake counties in the northeastern part of the state.
Dold has the support of some high-profile Republicans, including former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who has also stumped on behalf of Kirk in the Senate race. Also bucking up Dold is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which endorsed the Republican earlier this month.
The National Republican Congressional Committee has already run an ad in the district, hitting Seals for his support of the recently enacted healthcare reform law. "Pelosi's plan didn't go far enough for Dan Seals," the NRCC's attack ad says. "Oh, no — Dan Seals said he supports the even more expensive public option."
Meanwhile, President Obama sent out an e-mail appeal for Seals, who will also benefit from an upcoming Democratic fundraiser set to be hosted by first lady Michelle Obama.
Seals is part of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's "Red to Blue" program and the committee has reserved TV time in the district ahead of the fall. A Seals internal poll from earlier this month boasted a lead over Dold, 49 percent to 36.
The AFL-CIO also sent a mailer for Seals as part of a 2.5 million-piece direct-mail blitz for Democratic candidates across the country.
Among the issues the two have clashed over: Social Security, which Seals has accused Dold of wanting to privatize. Seals has proposed smaller payouts for the wealthiest Americans, while Dold has said he would entertain the idea of raising the age for benefits.
Dold is a social centrist, but the two have clashed on the debate over the military's "Don't ask, don't tell" policy. Seals wants it repealed, while Dold has said his view depends on how military leaders say the repeal affects the nation's military readiness.
Both candidates have been on the air with cable ads since August, but Seals went negative last week with a focus on Social Security and abortion.
The district is considered a toss-up this November with polls tight and neither candidate able to jump out to a substantial lead on the fundraising front to this point.
The 10th district is also likely to be a major focus for both campaign committees this fall. If Democrats are as serious as they say they are about playing offense even in a tough national environment for the party, Illinois's 10th district is one place to prove it.