Special-election outcomes are only the beginning in Ill., Ind. districts

Democrats are trumpeting Bill FosterGeorge (Bill) William FosterWorking together to effectively address patient identification during COVID-19 Britain to infect healthy individuals with coronavirus for vaccine trials Pelosi, Mnuchin continue COVID-19 talks amid dwindling odds for deal MORE’s win in former House Speaker Dennis Hastert’s (R-Ill.) district as a symbolic victory for the party, but neither Foster nor the winner of Tuesday’s special election in Indiana should get too comfortable in Washington.

GOP candidate Jim Oberweis, who lost to Foster, views the March 8 special election as a warm-up round, with the ultimate contest set for November. The situation is similar in Indiana, where the Democrats will hold a big primary just two months after the special election.


The winner’s lot appears particularly perilous in the district of the late Rep. Julia Carson (D-Ind.). Indianapolis City-County Councilman Andre Carson (D), who is Carson’s grandson and a heavy favorite Tuesday, would face a crowded primary just 56 days later, while Republican state Rep. Jon Elrod would face an undoubtedly tough reelection battle in a heavily Democratic district.

“Whoever wins the (special) will be very proud and likely to call themselves ‘congressman’ for the next few weeks, but that’s a pretty short-term title,” said former Indiana Health Commissioner Woody Myers, one of three big-name Democrats waiting to challenge Carson.

In Oberweis’s case, the race is being filed away with all the other GOP-leaning seats the party is trying to win back or retain in November. The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) spent $1.3 million in independent expenditures on the special election, but in November the race will be competing for attention with dozens of GOP-held open seats and potentially more attractive takeover opportunities.

GOPers have privately expressed dismay with Oberweis’s candidacy, but they are stuck with him. He was voted their November nominee at the same time he was given the special election nod in February.

He fell 53-47 in the special election on Saturday in a district that never gave Hastert less than 60 percent of the vote. Hastert supported Oberweis from the outset.

Oberweis spokesman Bill Pascoe said the race is now simply an eight-month contest against an incumbent.

Pascoe said the campaign needs to examine the turnout before deciding how to proceed. If Republicans turned out, he said, it was a message problem. If they didn’t, he said, it was an organizational problem getting voters to the polls.

“That’s the first thing we’ve got to find out — where were we weak?” Pascoe said. “My suspicion is that we didn’t turn out the vote.”

The party is hopeful that eight months of voting will make Foster less attractive, but Oberweis, who has spent millions of his wealth in four consecutive elections, might be on his own this time.

“His negatives were through the roof by the end of the campaign, and much of the baggage that came along with his previous statewide runs came back to haunt him,” said a GOP aide. “He will have to spend some time repairing his image, while at the same time increasing Foster’s negatives. It’s not an easy task.”

The GOP is facing a disaster scenario in Illinois overall, with the vital X-factor in the race being whether Illinois Sen. Barack Obama becomes the Democratic presidential nominee.

One Illinois GOP source acknowledged such a development could cost an already staggering state party several more House seats, including retiring Rep. Jerry Weller’s (R-Ill.), Rep. Mark Kirk’s (R-Ill.), Rep. Peter Roskam’s (R-Ill.), and maybe more. Many GOP-held seats in Illinois lean Republican but, as with Hastert’s, not overwhelmingly.

Foster, a scientist, was assured beyond any doubt Monday that he would be his party’s nominee in November, as carpenter John Laesch, the 2006 Democratic nominee, announced he was dropping his challenge to the result in the general election primary.{mospagebreak}

Laesch fell to Foster by 398 votes out of more than 75,000 cast in that primary, even though Foster easily won the special election primary. Laesch had asked for a recount the day before the special election.

In Indiana, party leaders selected Andre Carson in a process that left many would-be nominees unsatisfied.


State Reps. Carolene Mays and David Orentlicher, along with Myers, lead the field against Carson and have wasted no time getting started.

Mays’s campaign released a poll in mid-February suggesting Carson is not popular and faced a tough race against Elrod. Myers is planning to launch his first television ads the day after the special election and will be up on radio about a week later.

Myers said the race isn’t a marathon or a sprint, but instead more of a 440-yard dash, “which my track friends tell me is the hardest race to run, because you really have to pace yourself appropriately for that one big lap around the track.”

Whatever happens Tuesday, the winner won’t be listed as an incumbent in the primary, because Indiana does not denote incumbency on its ballots.

The Carson name is still an asset, but the late congresswoman’s grandson has been attacked for his lack of experience during his first competitive campaign. He was appointed last year to the city-county council and ran unopposed in November.

The Indianapolis Star endorsed Elrod by citing his superior experience. But, in doing so, it also suggested the best option might well emerge in the Democratic primary in May.

Elrod faced what were probably his best odds against Julia Carson, who died in December. The national GOP hasn’t invested much in the race, even though a Republican took 46 percent in the district in 2006.

The district voted 58 percent for Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) in 2004, but Indianapolis unexpectedly ousted a Democratic mayor in favor of a Republican in 2006.