CHICAGO (AP) — The campaigns to win Illinois' most competitive congressional races are coming down to the wire, featuring negative ads, shifting positions and millions of dollars pouring in from national organizations. It all underlines the stakes involved as Democrats try to undo Republican gains in 2010 and help their party with a shot at winning back a majority in the U.S. House. The Democrats are banking on a new, more favorable district map they drew last year, and both sides are counting on turnout from the contest between President Barack Obama and GOP challenger Mitt Romney. Below, a race-by-race look at the seven most-watched campaigns:
8TH DISTRICT: THE TEA PARTY TALKER AND THE VETERAN
CANDIDATES: Freshman U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh, an outspoken tea party favorite, is running against Democratic challenger Tammy Duckworth, an Iraq War veteran and double amputee who ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2006.
TERRITORY: Several ethnically diverse suburbs west and northwest of Chicago including Schaumburg and Carpentersville.
SIGNIFICANCE: The matchup is one of the most watched nationwide. Duckworth is a former Obama administration official with endorsements from top Democrats in a district redrawn by Democrats to be more friendly to their party. Walsh — who built a reputation on cable TV as a fierce critic of Obama and proponent of small government — has received millions for ads from outside groups. Two years after GOP officials tried to ignore him prior to his slim, surprise victory, he has party backing for his re-election bid.
ISSUES/STRATEGY: The campaign has become one of Illinois' most volatile. Duckworth has tried to portray Walsh as too extreme for the district and played up Walsh's penchant for controversial statements, while emphasizing her immigrant and biracial background. Walsh has criticized Duckworth for talking too much about her military service and tried to link her to imprisoned Gov. Rod Blagojevich, under whom she served in the state's veteran affairs department. Abortion also has become an issue after Walsh stated in a debate that there is never a medical necessity to use the procedure to save a woman's life. He later pulled back slightly on his comments. Walsh has criticized Duckworth for running ads labeling him a "deadbeat" dad due to a tardy child support case that was settled last spring.
10TH DISTRICT: TWO "MODERATE" BUSINESSMEN
CANDIDATES: Freshman Congressman Bob Dold faces Democrat Brad Schneider, a consultant who won a four-way primary in March.
TERRITORY: Extends north of Chicago to the Wisconsin line, hugging Lake Michigan and including both wealthy and working class communities.
SIGNIFICANCE: Democrats have long coveted the Chicago area district, where most voters have supported Democratic presidential candidates but Republican congressmen. The new boundaries make the territory more Democratic-leaning. The district was won five times by Mark Kirk, a moderate Republican who is now a U.S. senator, and both candidates portray themselves as moderates and link themselves to him. Each has raised big money, though Dold has the edge, taking in nearly $1 million in the last quarter alone. He also expected help from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's new super PAC.
ISSUES/STRATEGY: Dold, who calls himself a "pro-choice Republican," has played up his bipartisanship, stressing his support for federal funding for Planned Parenthood. Schneider has tried to portray Dold, especially in television ads, as a tea party candidate with extreme views. Schneider supports gay marriage and abortion rights, while Dold supports civil unions. Both candidates have mounted aggressive outreach campaigns, making hundreds of thousands of voter calls. Dold, the former head of a pest control company, also has questioned Schneider's recent business experience; he founded a one-person consultant firm and has since set aside his work to run for Congress.
11TH DISTRICT: STAKING OUT THE CENTER
CANDIDATES: Seven-term incumbent Rep. Judy Biggert, a Republican, faces Democrat Bill Foster, a former one-term congressman and physicist.
TERRITORY: A district southwest of Chicago including several suburbs with large Hispanic populations, and including Aurora, Illinois' second-largest city.
SIGNFICANCE: The race has shaped up as the most tame of the competitive campaigns. Both candidates are mild-mannered and don't always appear at ease promoting themselves, despite their experience with close elections. Biggert has been especially targeted by Democrats and has called it the toughest campaign of her career. The new district contains less than half of her old territory and much of Foster's former district, forcing Biggert to introduce herself to new voters.
ISSUES/STRATEGY: Biggert has spent time portraying herself as a centrist while Foster says he's not afraid to break with his party, citing how he voted against Democratic budgets when in Washington. Foster has labeled Biggert a "career politician" and a millionaire when he is looking for his own return to Congress and has earned millions himself as an entrepreneur. The two have raised about the same amount of money, but Foster had a slight edge in the last quarter. Gay marriage became an issue at a recent debate. Foster, who at one time indicated he was against gay marriage, says he supports single-sex marriages. Biggert says she supports civil unions, but is still deciding on gay marriage.
17TH DISTRICT: THE PIZZERIA OWNER AND THE SENATOR'S PROTEGE
CANDIDATES: Freshman Rep. Bobby Schilling, a Republican whose family runs a pizzeria, faces Democrat Cheri Bustos, a former city council member, journalist and health care executive
TERRITORY: A swath of west central Illinois touching both the Iowa and Wisconsin borders and including parts of Rockford and Peoria.
SIGNIFICANCE: Until 2010, the district had gone Democratic for nearly three decades. But Schilling won office with heavy tea party support and an aggressive campaign against former Congressman Phil Hare. Democrats are confident the new district map will allow them to reverse Schilling's advantage, which they labeled an anomaly. Among the Democratic backing for Bustos was an early endorsement from U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, who called her a close family friend who he watched grow up.
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