Dems go for rematch in suburban Chicago — Harper vs. Biggert

Businessman Scott Harper will put the Obama effect to the test in 2010, after signing up for a rematch with Rep. Judy Biggert (R-Ill.).

The Democrat, who filed with the Federal Election Commission on Friday, will try to build on his surprisingly close 54-44 loss to Biggert in 2008.

Democrats have targeted Republicans who were held below 55 percent in 2008 and are hopeful that an earlier start will allow Harper to be even more competitive in 2010, despite the absence of a home-state senator at the top of the ticket.

In addition to the encouraging result from last year, Democrats feel that putting pressure on the 71-year-old Biggert may force her into retirement.

But while Biggert has indicated that she will seek reelection, Harper has been quietly eyeing a rematch. A Democratic source said to expect an official announcement from Harper in the coming weeks.

Republicans remain skeptical that the district is actually primed for a takeover and attribute Biggert’s low number to Obama’s presence on the ballot. After going for President Bush by 10 points in 2004, the district went for Obama by the same margin last year.

“Mr. Harper would just be another vote for Nancy Pelosi, at a time when people are looking for checks and balances, not rubber stamps,” said Biggert’s chief of staff, Kathy Lydon. “Rep. Biggert already has announced she is running again, and in fact had her best first quarter of fundraising ever this cycle. She won’t be out-raised, out-spent or out-worked by Mr. Harper or anyone else.”

Kent Redfield, a political science professor at the University of Illinois at Springfield, said Biggert’s district hasn’t trended quite as far from Republicans as other suburban Chicago districts.

In recent years, Illinois Democrats have taken three other GOP-held suburban Chicago districts and have targeted suburban Republican Reps. Mark KirkMark Steven KirkEx-GOP Sen. Kirk registers to lobby The global reality behind 'local' problems Dems vow swift action on gun reform next year MORE and Peter Roskam. Obama took a similar share of the vote in these other suburban districts, but Redfield said Biggert’s incumbency is a big edge.

“Biggert is a longtime legislator, and she seems to be well-regarded,” Redfield said. “She isn’t somebody with a lot of bad press or exposure.”

Redfield suggested Kirk would be a better target, and that Roskam also provides a solid option with the right candidate.

Despite Redfield’s assessment, Republicans aren’t taking the Harper threat lightly.

{mospagebreak}One Illinois Republican consultant likened Biggert to former longtime Rep. Phil Crane (R-Ill.). Crane was also in his early 70s and was a GOP incumbent in suburban Chicago when he, much like Biggert, yielded 43 percent to an unheralded Democrat in 2002.

That Democrat, Melissa Bean, came back two years later and defeated Crane by four points. Republicans have been unable to recapture the seat.

“I think [Biggert] is going to go again, unfortunately,” said the consultant, who called her “another Phil Crane waiting to happen.”

But the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) said Biggert’s election to her sixth term in 2008 shows just how electable she is.

“Judy Biggert’s 10-point victory over Scott Harper in a tough election year speaks volumes about her cross-party appeal among voters in Illinois,” NRCC spokesman Paul Lindsay said. “Such a strong outcome explains why only a weak candidate like Harper is willing to challenge her.”

Whatever Biggert’s prowess, Democrats believe Harper has a lot to build on, after having raised more than $800,000 in just 10 months — a strong showing for an under-the-radar campaign.

Biggert has taken notice of Harper’s performance, raising $175,000 in the first quarter of the 2010 cycle in preparation for a potentially tough campaign.

The national Democratic Party didn’t go after Biggert last cycle, but with a solid fundraiser who partially self-funded, it will look at the race in a new light this cycle.

Biggert’s district was put on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s (DCCC) list of emerging races late in the cycle in 2008, but it never cracked the committee’s massive Red to Blue list or received any national party money.

“We are confident that with more time, money and support, Scott Harper will no doubt be a serious threat to Judy Biggert, as voters realize times have changed but their member of Congress has not,” DCCC spokeswoman Gabby Adler said.