Chicago’s suburbs this fall aren’t expected to be quite the congressional battleground they were two years ago, but Republicans are pushing ahead after Tuesday’s primary election as the party tries to take back three seats Democrats now hold.
Democrats, aided by a new map they drew and President Barack Obama’s presence at the top of the ticket, picked up several seats in Illinois in 2012. Now Reps. Brad Schneider, Bill Foster and Tammy Duckworth have to defend them this November.
Republicans picked a former congressman to challenge Schneider, a state lawmaker to challenge Foster and a political newcomer to try to defeat Duckworth.
On Wednesday, the Republican challengers were eager to discuss the months ahead, while the Democratic incumbents declined to talk about the races as they chose not to directly engage their challengers.
Here’s an initial look at how the November races are shaping up:
Bob Dold represented this north suburban district for one term before Democratic freshman Schneider ousted him two years ago.
Like many Republicans across the country, Dold already has worked to tie Schneider to Obama’s health care overhaul, criticizing the Democrat for not voting to delay the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
Schneider, though, has received a boost from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who placed him in charge of a so-called discharge petition on extending unemployment benefits, a maneuver aimed at forcing a vote on the issue.
Dold, 44, a Deerfield businessman who fashions himself as a moderate Republican, said Wednesday he favors finding a way to extend the benefits, because Democrat-led Illinois has a huge unemployment problem. He criticized Schneider for being late to take on the issue, and called Pelosi’s decision to have Schneider lead the effort “political gamesmanship” and a sign that Democrats think his opponent is in trouble.
Schneider’s campaign said the congressman was unavailable for an interview Wednesday, but released a statement in which Schneider criticized Dold for lining up with Republicans on votes to repeal Obama’s health care law.
Two years ago, Schneider was outspent by $2 million and still won. Dold said this fall is different than 2012.
“But this time, he doesn’t have President Obama, the favorite son of Illinois, at the top of the ticket. He has Pat Quinn,” Dold said. “There’s a huge difference there.”
Campaign finance reports filed last month show both candidates with about $1 million.
In this west and southwest suburban district, three-term Republican state Rep. Darlene Senger of Naperville won a five-way race and will take on Foster, who returned to Congress in 2013 after losing a different GOP-leaning district in 2010.
Senger said she plans to make her race against Foster a referendum on the Affordable Care Act, which the congressman supported. Senger said the law won’t reduce health care costs and is impeding job creation.
Foster’s campaign did not make the congressman available for an interview. A campaign manager said Foster plans to talk about “jobs and the economy and strengthening the middle class.”
Senger, a former Naperville City Council member whose background is in finance, has highlighted her work on a state pension reform committee as reason for voters to count on her leadership skills.
“I’m a fighter for people,” she said. “When there’s a cause out there I’ll get out and take it on like with the pension problem and the rest and that’s something I don’t see Foster doing in Washington.”
Foster, 58, a Harvard-educated physicist and businessman, scored 58 percent two years ago to oust longtime Republican Rep. Judy Biggert in a redrawn district. Senger, 58, said she believes the Democratic advantage will be wiped away in a mid-term election that likely will have significantly lower turnout than during a presidential year.
To start the fall campaign, Foster had nearly $900,000 left in his campaign fund compared to Senger’s $50,000.
In this northwest and west suburban district, Republican Larry Kaifesh won his primary in a landslide Tuesday night, but faces a stronger test in November against Duckworth, a fellow combat veteran.
Kaifesh, a colonel in the Marine Corps Reserve, highlighted his 20-plus years in the military and his deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan throughout his campaign. He said the voters responded to him as “an honest leader and a selfless servant to my county.”
Duckworth earned a Purple Heart as a Black Hawk helicopter pilot who lost both of her legs in Iraq. She later served as an assistant secretary of veterans affairs under Obama.
Kaifesh called Duckworth a “formidable” opponent, but said the policies she and fellow Democrats champion are “failing us as a society.”
“They’re touting it as, ‘This is the new normal. Just accept it.’” said Kaifesh, 46, of Carpentersville. “When I talk to the constituents, they don’t want the new normal. They want an opportunity to succeed.”
Duckworth’s campaign declined to make her available for an interview.
Kaifesh won his primary despite being outraised nearly 2 to 1. He faces an even larger deficit to start the general election campaign — Duckworth reported more than $900,000 to start March, while Kaifesh had about $30,000.