Illinois House races heating up

Illinois House races are heating up with less than one month to go until the state’s primary. The state has a number of competitive primaries due to a complete redistricting overhaul by Democrats in the state legislature.


The highest-profile fights: a testy member-on-member battle between Reps. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) and Don Manzullo (R-Ill.), and former Rep. Debbie Halvorson’s (D-Ill.) challenge to Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.).

Kinzinger vs. Manzullo:

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Rep. Kinzinger’s district was largely dismantled by Democrats, who hope to take out as many as six House Republicans with the new map. He decided to challenge Manzullo in a district that includes some of his old territory and runs from Chicago’s southwest suburbs all the way to the Indiana border.

The two offer a stark contrast in profiles. Manzullo has been in office for decades and hasn’t run a tough race since his first win in 1992. Kinzinger beat Halvorson by a double-digit margin in 2010 with significant Tea Party support and has become known as an energetic, rising star in Washington.

A poll out this week showed Kinzinger leading Manzullo by 47 percent to 34 percent. Both did well in the parts of the district they’d previously represented, but Kinzinger was leading by a solid margin in the territory new to both of them.

“While Manzullo has the benefit of the district, all the energy is with Kinzinger. He is the young tiger coming up,” said Roosevelt University Professor Paul Green. “The district favors Manzullo but he hasn’t had a real contest in many, many years — I don’t know how battle-ready he is.”

While Kinzinger had significant Tea Party support in his 2010 run, he has angered some conservatives with a more centrist voting record since his election: One local Tea Party group has endorsed Manzullo.

The two have been attacking each other for not being conservative enough: Kinzinger has hit Manzullo in ads for backing the “cash for clunkers” program, voting to raise the debt ceiling and supporting earmarks. Manzullo’s ad says Kinzinger “voted to spend $209 billion more than Don Manzullo did” in the past year.

Manzullo got some big-name support this week: RedState.com’s Erick Erickson endorsed him, writing that while he’d backed Kinzinger’s 2010 run, the freshman had “done nothing to distinguish himself as someone willing to stand up to House leaders.”

Jackson Jr. vs. Halvorson:

Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.’s new district had to expand significantly because of population loss on Chicago’s South Side, and now stretches more than an hour’s drive south of the city to exurban Kankakee, territory Halvorson represented.

Jackson Jr. also faces two serious controversies. The first is an ongoing House Ethics Committee investigation into whether he tried to bribe indicted former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) into appointing him to the Senate.

The second may be more damaging in the district, according to local experts. Jackson Jr. has admitted to an extramarital affair and had a campaign backer fly her to Chicago on two occasions.

“The ethics issue isn’t playing as strong as you’d think,” said Green. “The ‘social acquaintance’ issue is playing big… it’s hurting him with churchgoers in the city.”

But the district is still heavily African-American, and the Democratic primary will be dominated by voters from Jackson Jr.’s old district.

Jackson Jr. also secured the endorsement of the Chicago Tribune’s conservative-leaning editorial board, a surprise since they have long been critical of him. But they described Halvorson as “alarmingly unqualified to represent the district” after interviewing both candidates.

In a recent poll, Jackson Jr. led Halvorson by 54 percent to 32 percent.

“He has enough of a base despite his baggage that at this point he’s probably still fine,” said University of Illinois-Springfield Prof. Kent Redfield.

Other races:

Other primaries in the state may not be as high-profile, but could be important for the general election.

Democrat Tammy Duckworth, an Iraq War veteran, has secured the backing of most Illinois Democratic heavy-hitters in her primary against Raja Krishnamoorthi, a former advisor to President Obama. The two are vying to take on Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.) in a Democratic-leaning, suburban Chicago district, and whoever wins is the likely favorite in the general election.

Duckworth has the endorsements of Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, both of whom recruited her to run in her first shot at Congress, a 2006 loss to Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.). She also has the backing of top Obama advisor David Axelrod.

Krishnamoorthi is supported by Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.) as well as Cook County Board Chair Toni Preckwinkle, a favorite of Chicago liberals.

The two almost had the race to themselves: Walsh initially planned to move to challenge Rep. Randy Hultgren (R-Ill.) in a Republican district nearby. He has been tarred by an ongoing court case over claims he owes more than $100,000 in unpaid child support to his ex-wife, and the bombastic Tea Partier faces a steep uphill battle against either Democrat.

Both Duckworth and Krishnamoorthi have had huge fundraising hauls. An internal poll leaked by Duckworth’s campaign showed her leading by a whopping 59 percent to 17 percent.

In another race, Democrats Ilya Sheyman and Brad Schneider are the front-runners to take on Rep. Robert Dold (R-Ill.) in a north suburban Chicago district that is strongly Democratic-leaning.

The matchup is a proxy battle between two wings of the Democratic Party. Sheyman, a former liberal activist in his mid-20s, has the backing of many liberal groups including MoveOn.org, the Progressive Campaign Change Committee and Democracy for America, a group, founded by former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean (D), that he used to work for.

Schneider has been endorsed by the New Democrat Coalition, a group of center-left, “pro-business” Democrats.

Schneider's campaign has circulated an internal poll showing him with a 29 percent to 14 percent edge over Sheyman, but local observers say that Sheyman has had a more energetic campaign to date, and is popular with grassroots activists in the district. He has criticized Schneider for donating to Republicans in the past, including now-Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), who used to represent much of this district in Congress.

Two other Democrats are in the race: Air Force Col. John Tree and attorney Vivek Bavda.

Whoever wins will have a tough fight against Dold, despite the district’s Democratic lean — there are many ticket-splitters in the area, especially the district’s large Jewish population.

“I don’t see any of those four candidates giving Dold any heat,” said Green.

This post was updated on Monday at 2:46 p.m.