Democratic challenger Brad Schneider claimed victory tonight over freshman Republican Rep. Robert Dold in a North Shore congressional race tonight.
Schneider leads by about 1,500 out of more than 252,000 cast with nearly 97 percent of precincts counted. Schneider had a late surge in Lake County after leading in Cook County most of the evening.Dold's supporters and staff gathered in the concert hall at Viper Alley, a music venue in Lincolnshire, as oldies and light rock blared over the sound system. Partygoers ate pizza and sipped beer as they tensely watched muted big screen TVs that flashed presidential vote results from various cable news channels.
Voters got their chance to weigh in after months of a contentious campaign that featured millions of dollars spent on attack ads.
Dold vastly out raised Schneider, taking in $4.2 million to his challenger’s $2.5 million. As of Oct. 17, Dold had $1.5 million for the sprint to election day while Schneider had $94,000.
Outside groups also went heavily in Dold's favor, financing a barrage of ads supporting the incumbent or attacking Schneider in the last weeks of the campaign. Heavyweights in Dold's corner included the National Republican Congressional Committee, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Congressional Leadership Fund and an organization set up by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose group funneled money to politicians he considers moderate.
Outside groups spent an estimated $4.7 million on Dold compared to $1.7 million on Schneider's behalf.
Schneider, a wealthy Deerfield management consultant, had to spend to win a four-way March primary.
The fall contest drew particular interest because the 10th District, where voters have had a reputation for moderate views and ticket splitting tickets, was redrawn to boost Democratic chances following Dold’s 51 percent to 49 percent win over Dan Seals in 2010.
The territory, which ropes in affluent North Shore neighborhoods along with working-class areas of North Lake County, has been one of the most Democratic districts represented by a Republican.
Democrats were buoyed by the fact that 63 percent of voters in the redrawn 10th voted for Obama in 2008. While acknowledging the remap presented challenges, Dold aides noted that Republican Sen. Mark Kirk, who represented the district for a decade before running for the Senate seat, beat Democrat Alexi Giannoulias 54 percent to 42 percent in 2010.
Seeking to win a district that hasn’t reliably backed one party or the other, both candidates cast themselves as small businessmen willing to compromise on policy. Each candidate tried to convince voters the other was a ideologue unwilling to buck his party.
Schneider’s staffers felt a large district-wide turnout, stoked by a presidential race on the ticket, would work in their candidate’s favor, campaign manager Reed Adamson said.
Dold spokesman John McGovern said the campaign identified pockets of support and worked to ensure huge turnout there while trying to generate modest support in swaths of the district likely to go to Schneider.
While the candidates sometimes cultivated similar images, the differences between their campaign strategies were stark.
In the race’s final days, Dold cruised the district in a red, white and blue bus emblazoned with his name, blasting cheerful music. He kept a hectic public schedule, stopping to shake hands and pose for pictures at restaurants and factories, adopting a looser persona than the buttoned-up businessman of his previous campaign.
The bus tour replicated a tactic from Dold’s successful 2010 campaign.
“I think in the closing days of a campaign, it creates excitement, enthusiasm, energy,” McGovern said.
The week before the election, Dold publicized a video-recorded meeting with Kirk, who, like the candidate, has described himself as socially moderate and fiscally conservative. Dold has invoked Kirk’s name routinely, hoping to solidify his link to a man who carried the district five times.
Schneider was less visible, holding few events announced ahead of time until the weekend before the election.
Instead, Schneider’s campaign held house parties designed to sell individual voters on the candidate, Adamson said. The campaign would seek out a supporter to host and then ask that person to invite neighbors, sometimes including specific voters the campaign believed — from research by phone or in-person — to be undecided, Adamson said.