Lauzen to enter race officially as Oberweis woos Hastert crowd

State Sen. Chris Lauzen will announce his candidacy for the seat of retiring Rep. Dennis HastertJohn (Dennis) Dennis HastertFeehery: How GOP takes back the House in two years Feehery: The 5 Ways Republicans can channel Trump without Trump Feehery: A possible House Speaker conundrum for Democrats MORE (R-Ill.) in about a week, setting up a face-off with former gubernatorial and Senate candidate Jim Oberweis for the GOP nomination.

Lauzen told The Hill on Wednesday that his campaign would officially launch “in seven to 10 days.”

Lauzen said he intends to differentiate himself from Oberweis by focusing on his electoral victories, his independence and his experience. Oberweis’s strategists see their candidate as the GOP front-runner and intend to set up his contrast with the
Democrats versus running against Lauzen.

“I’ve been doing for 15 years what Jim promises to do in campaigns,” Lauzen said. “The other thing is that I win campaigns; Jim loses them. ... He’s spent $7.5 million to lose three campaigns.”

Oberweis is resisting any comparisons to Lauzen and is focusing on saving the district from Democratic takeover.

“I’m not running against Chris Lauzen; I’m running against the Democrats,” Oberweis said. “I think there’s a reasonable chance, a year from now, they’re going to look around and say, ‘Boy, wouldn’t we love to embarrass the former speaker by electing a Democrat?’”

Oberweis has finished second in three consecutive statewide primaries — for Senate in 2002 and 2004 and for governor in 2006. Lauzen is a grassroots-oriented conservative state senator who has battled with some Illinois Republican leaders, including Hastert and former Gov. George Ryan.

Oberweis, though, has kept in close contact with Hastert throughout his flirtation with running for the seat, making sure not to offend the former Speaker with his entreaties. It’s not clear whether Hastert will endorse Oberweis, as he did in 2002, but Oberweis is signing on with many of Hastert’s people, including lobbyist Dan Mattoon and former staffers Brad Hahn and David From.

Oberweis officially entered the race two weeks ago and is willing to plug a similar amount of money into the primary as he has in the past. According to his FEC filings, he is prepared to spend $5 million on the primary and general elections combined.

He said he would like to save the bulk of that for the general election, where he could potentially face a self-funding Democrat, Bill Foster. Other Democratic candidates for the seat include attorney Jotham Stein and 2006 Hastert challenger John Laesch. Geneva Mayor Kevin Burns is also running on the Republican side. The district leans Republican.

Lauzen, meanwhile, is a notoriously under-funded candidate. In the statewide comptroller race in 1998, he raised just $325,000, was badly outspent, and lost the race 59-40.

But he says that race is evidence of how much he can do on the grassroots level despite a big money deficit. So far, he has collected the endorsements of four GOP state senators in the 14th district and former Sen. Peter Fitzgerald (R-Ill.). He also boasts a 3,000-member volunteer network.

Oberweis, who is feverishly meeting with political leaders across the district, will begin rolling out endorsements soon.
One endorsement that could play a particularly interesting role is that of Jack Roeser, a wealthy conservative activist who chairs the local Family Taxpayer Network.

After backing Oberweis in last year’s gubernatorial primary, Roeser has turned on him and is backing Lauzen. Roeser spent a half-million dollars on Oberweis in the gubernatorial primary but became upset at him for supporting gubernatorial nominee Judy Baar Topinka after he lost to her in the primary.

Roeser is no fan of Topinka.

“Somebody ought to run on a Republican platform for once,” Roeser said in an interview with The Hill last month. “[Oberweis] turned out to be hollow. That’s very disappointing to me.”

It’s not yet clear exactly what Roeser will do under the more restrictive federal campaign finance laws, but he said he will fundraise and can control the issues. He began the campaign last month by sending out a letter sharply criticizing Hastert, a move that was seen as anti-Oberweis.

It’s evident that Hastert will loom over the campaign in one form or another, and Lauzen is critical of Oberweis’s courting of the Hastert crowd.

“I respect Denny’s service, but I also don’t think that any of us does anything flawlessly,” Lauzen said.

Oberweis, referring to his three primary losses, acknowledged room to grow as a politician and said his losses should help him this time around.

“I have made plenty of mistakes as an entrepreneur, and I’m sure that as a candidate I’ve made plenty of mistakes as well,” Oberweis said. “But the good news is, good entrepreneurs tend to learn from their mistakes. And I believe I’ve learned a lot.”