Illinois Primary Races Highlight Party Divisions
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 15, 1998; Page A09
EVANSTON, Ill.If, as President Clinton has said, the era of big government is over, Illinois state Rep. Jan Schakowsky hasn't gotten the word.
Schakowsky is running for the Democratic congressional nomination in the district that encompasses Chicago's North Side and neighboring suburbs. Her platform includes expanding Medicare to cover all Americans and a Social Security fix that would encourage taxpayers to put more of their personal savings into the government-run retirement system.
"I don't think I can be defined as too far left in a district like this," Schakowsky said.
So it would seem. Despite the negative connotations the term "liberal" may have elsewhere, her two main rivals in Tuesday's primary state Sen. Howard Carroll and wealthy young businessman J.B. Pritzker say they're also happy to use it to describe their views.
At a time when Democrats are debating how much Clinton and his centrist policies have changed their party, the costly and competitive primary campaign in the 9th District underscores continuing tensions within the party. To varying degrees, all three candidates reflect the enduring strength of the values espoused by the party's more liberal congressional wing, which has often been at odds with the president.
If the 9th District offers a window on the Democratic Party's differences, the 13th District in Chicago's western suburbs provides further evidence of the depth of the divisions between the Republican Party's conservative and moderate wings.
The Republican primary in the 13th District pits state Rep. Judy Biggert, a social moderate who supports abortion rights, against state Rep. Peter Roskam, a conservative who opposes abortion and has made taxes and government regulation central issues in his attacks against his opponent.
"It is a high-contrast race that is about fundamental Republican principles," said Roskam. "I feel I reflect the Republican primary voter and believe she [Biggert] is out of step." Biggert responded that Roskam and his allies want to drive Republicans like herself out of the party, adding, "I believe I'm the mainstream Republican."
It is more than a high-contrast race. The battle in Illinois goes to the heart of a question that will define the party's future: Can it marry the energy and commitment of grass-roots ideologues with a program that can appeal to the suburban voters who populate the 13th District?
These same differences split Republicans in California's 22nd District, where Democrat Lois Capps defeated Republican Tom Bordonaro in a special election Tuesday. Bordonaro, a conservative who opposes abortion, had defeated a more moderate Republican in the January primary. Capps's victory was aided by GOP defections.
Similar divisions exist in Tuesday's Republican Senate primary in Illinois, where the winner will face Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun (D), considered one of the most vulnerable incumbents running this year. Conservative Republican state Sen. Peter Fitzgerald has spent more than $6 million most of it his own to erase a big, early lead in the polls by comptroller Loleta Didrickson, a moderate Republican who has been endorsed by both Illinois Gov. Jim Edgar (R) and 1996 presidential candidate Robert J. Dole.
The divisions within the Democratic Party are less inflammatory than among the Republicans, and the differences among the three candidates in the 9th District in Illinois are less distinct than those that separate Biggert and Roskam. But the 9th District race illustrates both the extent to which Clinton's influence is changing the party and the resistance that remains to his New Democrat agenda.
All three Democratic candidates either opposed Clinton's decision to sign the welfare reform bill in 1996 or expressed strong objections to key sections of the act. All three opposed Clinton's unsuccessful effort to convince Congress to grant him so-called fast-track authority for negotiating new trade agreements.
Carroll and Pritzker emphasized the importance of balancing the budget a sign of the party's more conservative fiscal posture under Clinton. Pritzker, who said he is the most fiscally conservative of the three candidates, argued that any budget surpluses should be used for deficit reduction.
But Schakowsky said deficits "are not as big a threat" to the economy as some claim. She would be willing to allow Congress to violate the spending caps on domestic programs that were part of the budget agreement of last year.
In outlining his belief that Democrats should do more to support economic growth and job creation, Pritzker comes closest to sounding like a "New Democrat," but when asked whether he would describe himself as one, he replied, "Not in the way you mean it."
"I don't like labels," Pritzker said later in the interview. "I'll take 'liberal.' "
Pritzker said the differences among the candidates are as much generational as ideological, but the race has assumed an ideological tinge in the final days. Carroll has attacked Schakowsky for opposing the death penalty in all circumstances, even in cases of terrorism like the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. She said Carroll long shared her position, but last fall announced his support for imposing the death penalty in such circumstances.
The candidates applaud Clinton's politics, saying he has helped elect more Democrats in their state. But Carroll said he is likely to be "closer to the congressional wing" than to the president. Schakowsky was even more explicit. "I'd certainly like to see my priorities given voice more in the debate in the post-Clinton era," she said.
The 9th District race, in which the primary likely will determine who goes to Congress because of the heavy Democratic vote, is notable for the amount of money being spent. Pritzker, whose family fortune derives from the Hyatt Corp., plans to spend more than $1.5 million, including $900,000 of his own money. Schakowsky said she will spend more than $900,000, while Carroll said his spending will be about $850,000.
Schakowsky and Carroll are rated co-favorites, but Pritzker's heavy television advertising has made him a factor.
In the Republican 13th District race, Biggert is the favorite to win the nomination, which would set up her likely election in the fall because of the strength of the GOP vote in the district.
Biggert enjoys the support of retiring congressman Harris W. Fawell (R) and of Gov. Edgar. Roskam has been endorsed by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry J. Hyde (R), who shares Roskam's views on abortion and for whom Roskam worked as an aide a decade ago.
In addition to abortion, Roskam and Biggert have argued over taxes, government mandates, education and health care.
Biggert cites her support for an education reform package last year as proof that she, not Roskam, cares most about an issue of great concern to suburban voters. She also cites her support for legislation prohibiting what she called "drive-by mastectomies."
Roskam said Biggert's health care "mandates" are misguided and will cost businesses $2.5 billion; he took her vote for the education reform package and used it to attack her for raising taxes at a time the state is running a surplus. The measure raised roughly $500 million in taxes from casino gambling boats, cigarettes and phone bills. Biggert counters that Roskam has protected gambling and tobacco interests.
Roskam has received modest support from conservatives Gary Bauer and James Dobson, head of Focus on the Family, and the Campaign for Working Families. Biggert argues that the national conservative groups supporting him are special interests more interested "in perpetuating their agenda" than in the agenda of the party as a whole. She said the party must be inclusive.
Bauer blamed party moderates for trying to exclude social conservatives. Social conservatives, he said, have supported "less than ideal" candidates in general elections, he said, while moderates have balked at supporting social conservatives. "There's got to be a two-way street."
Roskam called his battle with Biggert "healthy competition" that will help make the party stronger. Biggert called it destructive and demoralizing. "I think it's very important," she said, "that we don't allow our party to be taken over by the ultra-conservatives. I don't think that's what the majority of people want for our party."
Staff researcher Ben White contributed to this report.
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company