LOMBARD, Ill. — The uphill Democratic effort to reclaim the House majority got a boost Thursday as three nominees in key Illinois districts began a coordinated campaign against the GOP budget, led by a legless Iraq war veteran who barrels around Chicago’s western suburbs in her Ford F-150 truck trumpeting an economic-fairness agenda.
Tammy Duckworth, whose near-miss campaign for Congress in 2006 made her an icon in the antiwar movement, secured the Democratic nomination for a new congressional district that some argue was drawn specifically for her, part of an aggressive effort by Illinois Democrats to net as many as five seats with the new lines. With a hometown hero, President Obama, at the top of the ticket, Democrats hope that their down-ballot candidates in the Land of Lincoln can draft off of him and collect up to 20 percent of the 25 seats they needed to return the speaker’s gavel to Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
The key battleground will be in suburban Chicago, where Duckworth is squaring off in a high-profile race against a tea party favorite, Rep. Joe Walsh (R), and where two other GOP incumbents, moderate freshman Rep. Bob Dold and seven-term Rep. Judy Biggert, are facing tough challenges in districts that have been redrawn and tilted toward the Democrats.
The three Democratic challengers — Duckworth, business consultant Brad Schneider and former representative Bill Foster — campaigned together Thursday in Chicago, holding a press conference to blast the latest Republican budget proposal as a “vote to end Medicare as we know it.” The rare appearance of three challengers together served to demonstrate how much Democrats want to take on the budget from Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), but also how critical they view these seats as key to their chances of securing the majority.
Republicans are paying the price for a narrow defeat in the 2010 governor’s race that left them powerless in the state capital and gave Democrats the chance to control the redistricting process.
“Their road to Pelosi as speaker is through Illinois redistricting,” Walsh said last week while campaigning in Elgin, a suburb 45 miles from Chicago.
Across the nation, the complicated calculus of redistricting has mostly ended without dramatic gains by either party — “something of a wash,” independent analyst Stuart Rothenberg said this week. That was a moral victory for Democrats, who initially feared their national wipeout in 2010 would shift many districts toward Republicans.
However, GOP strategists are quick to note that many of the 89 freshman Republicans will now be running in shored-up districts, making the Democratic “drive for 25” a bit steeper of a climb because first-term lawmakers are usually the ripest targets. Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.), who defeated Duckworth in 2006 and is being relocated into a very safe GOP seat next to the Walsh-Duckworth district, called the Illinois Democrats “petty” for a redistricting process that is part of an unpopular political culture in the state capital. He predicted the endangered Republicans have “a real opportunity” to run against a stalled national economy and a corrupt culture in Springfield.