The State of the Election: Midwest
Illinois (21 electoral votes)
Barack Obama will net a huge vote in his home state, and the bigger the turnout, the more likely it is that Democrats will pick up a pair of highly coveted House seats.
In the 10th District, GOP Rep. Mark Steven Kirk faces a rematch with Dan Seals, a business consultant and Obama protege who lost by a surprisingly narrow margin in 2006. In the 11th District, Democratic state Senate Majority Leader Debbie Halvorson is favored over concrete company executive Martin Ozinga to replace retiring GOP Rep. Jerry Weller. In the 18th District around Peoria, where moderate Republican Rep. Ray LaHood is retiring, state Rep. Aaron Schock, who is 27, is expected to win a comfortable victory over Democrat Colleen Callahan.
Underscoring their woes this year, Republicans did not seriously challenge Reps. Melissa Bean in the 8th District and Bill Foster in the 14th District, in their GOP-leaning areas. Sen. Richard J. Durbin is a shoo-in for a third term.
John McCain pulled out of the economically battered Wolverine State last month, leaving Obama the heavy favorite here. But the GOP nominee's departure stranded two Republican House incumbents who rank atop the Democratic target list. In the 9th District, which includes suburban Detroit, Rep. Joe Knollenberg, a longtime appropriator, is struggling to hold on against state Lottery Commissioner Gary Peters.
In the more conservative 7th District, freshman Rep. Tim Walberg faces an aggressive challenge from state Senate Democratic leader Mark Schauer. Democrats are slightly favored in both races, but the wild card is the strength of the Obama turnout, given the state's diminished battleground status. Democratic Sen. Carl M. Levin is expected to cruise to a sixth term.
Polls show Obama with a solid lead here, but this state remains a battleground down ticket. One of the year's most hotly contested Senate races pits GOP incumbent Norm Coleman against comedian/liberal talk-show host Al Franken, with Independence Party candidate Dean Barkley running a strong third. The nasty tenor between Coleman and Franken has left voters unenthusiastic about either, and Coleman swore off negative ads and "robo calls" in a late effort to improve his image and save his job.
Democrats also are targeting two Republican House districts. The 3rd, GOP-held for four decades, is now a tossup after Rep. Jim Ramstad's retirement. The Democratic candidate is Ashwin Madia, an Iraq war veteran and the son of Indian immigrants. His Republican opponent is state Rep. Erik Paulsen, a former Ramstad aide.
But the bigger shock could come in the 7th District, held by freshman GOP Rep. Michele Bachmann, an ambitious conservative who incited a liberal uprising after her anti-Obama comments during a recent MSNBC interview. Democratic challenger Elwyn Tinklenberg, a Methodist minister, raised $1.5 million within a week of Bachmann's well-publicized commentary, but is still running uphill in this GOP stronghold.
Another state McCain contested and then ceded to his Democratic competitor. Republicans had taken aim at the 8th District, held by freshman Democratic Rep. Steve Kagen, a wealthy, gaffe-prone allergist who was slow to build a campaign operation. But given the climate, Kagen is slightly favored over GOP state legislator John Gard -- at least for this cycle.