Front-runners for Kirk’s Illinois seat are lagging in money chase


The primary races turned upside down in the third quarter, with the two big-name candidates falling behind in the fundraising battle and facing new questions about their front-runner status.

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Republicans have begun looking at the race differently lately, especially after state Sen. Beth Coulson was outraised two to one by businessman Bob Dold.

On the Democratic side, two-time nominee Dan Seals has a big-time name-recognition advantage based on his past runs, but state Rep. Julie Hamos raised the second-most money of any non-incumbent House candidate in the third quarter.

Both fields have yet to shake out completely, but with the primary just more than three months away, crunch time is fast approaching for candidates trying to close vast name-recognition gaps.

The race has the distinction of being the earliest primary, Feb. 2, and is the most expensive open-seat contest in the nation. Kirk announced a run for Senate three months ago, and already the candidates have combined to plug nearly $2 million into the race.

Dold outraised Coulson, $248,000 to $128,000, while businessman Dick Green raised $75,000 and self-funded another $229,000. Now Coulson finds herself in third place in the money chase, despite being the favorite.

“I think Coulson’s fundraising numbers change the dynamics of the race and the perceptions of the race,” Green said.

Republican sources said they still see Coulson as the favorite, but even those supporting her suggest she has a race on her hands.

“Beth didn’t get her fundraising going until three weeks before the end of the quarter, which was dumb on their part, but she definitely is the front-runner,” one source said. “Polling-wise, she’s the only one with name ID worth anything in the primary.”

About the same could be said for Seals, who released a poll in August showing he had an 83-to-18 percent edge in name recognition over Hamos, and a 63-to-8 percent advantage in a primary match-up with her. Last week, though, it was revealed that Hamos outraised him $547,000 to $303,000 in the third quarter.

Hamos’s state House district covers just a small portion of the 10th congressional district, and she recently moved inside its borders. So getting her name ID up will be key, and the money will be important for that.

Hamos said her success in the Democratic primary could rest on Jewish voters, whom Kirk has successfully wooed in recent years to defeat Seals.

The suburban Chicago district has the largest Jewish population of any district outside of New York, Florida and California, according to the North American Jewish Data Bank.

“I’m hoping Kirk doesn’t have a primary for that reason,” said Hamos, the daughter of Holocaust survivors. “I don’t want too many people moving into the Republican primary to help Kirk who might be Hamos supporters.”

Seals said Hamos’s strong fundraising isn’t surprising, and he acknowledges his two losses to Kirk have led a few supporters to switch to Hamos’s side (Hamos has the support of many fellow elected officials).

But Seals played up the fact that he was willing to take on a tough incumbent when others weren’t. And he said he has some of the advantages and challenges of being an incumbent to go along with that.

“There is sort of a strange dynamic,” Seals said. “Because I’m the best known, this is where the targets are settling.”

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He said the short primary could help his cause, since he’s so well-known already.

“I think it’s difficult to build up name ID,” he said. “In a lot of ways, this is like a special election.”

Coulson doesn’t have as much of an early edge in name recognition, but against a field of political unknowns, her base in the district is significant.

She released a poll from last month showing 44 percent name recognition. Of that group, eight to one were positive.

Coulson also can argue that she’s battle-tested, having won a state Senate district that went 65 percent for President Barack Obama last year — a number even higher than the 60 percent Obama won in Kirk’s congressional district.

She suggested the contrast with her unknown and untested opponents will be stark.

“There’s three of us in this race — two Democrats and one Republican — who have actually run races,” Coulson said. “I don’t believe brand-new candidates who’ve never run for anything before know what it takes to win.”

Coulson asserted that Dold and Green have a long way to go, but her poll showed a majority of voters undecided in the race, so there is plenty of room for movement.

Green, who is wealthy, isn’t saying how much he’ll spend on the race. But he told The Hill that he won’t lose for lack of funds. He is also focused on raising money and has signed up a reputable team.

Dold, a former congressional staffer who runs a family pest control business, has already nabbed the endorsement of Elk Grove Township party leaders.

He pointed point out that Kirk was an underdog newcomer when he won the seat in 2000.

“I certainly believe that we have better than a 50-50 shot of being the nominee,” Dold said. “If we can get our message to voters, we will be the nominee.”