CHICAGO (AP) — Nearly two years after taking control of Congress, the Democrats have claimed another prize by capturing former GOP House Speaker Dennis Hastert’s seat — a development that Republicans say is not a harbinger of things to come.
The longtime Republican district fell to the Democrats Saturday when wealthy scientist and businessman Bill Foster snatched the seat in a closely watched special election.
Republicans had been hoping to hold on to the district that President Bush easily carried in 2004 with 55 percent of the vote. The district runs from Chicago’s far western suburbs to almost the Mississippi River.
Foster defeated wealthy Republican businessman Jim Oberweis by capturing 53 percent of the nearly 100,000 votes cast in the election.
[Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris] Van Hollen said Foster’s win is a rebuke of the Bush administration and the GOP’s apparent presidential nominee, John McCain, who helped raise money for Oberweis.
“The message to Republican candidates is that John McCain’s not going to be able to save you in this election,” said Van Hollen, a Maryland congressman.
Foster’s special election win means he will fill the remainder of Hastert’s term, which ends next January. The 66-year-old Hastert, who lost his powerful post as speaker when Democrats took control of Congress, resigned late last year.
The race between Foster and Oberweis spawned a contentious campaign that saw both men counting on high-profile supporters to sway voters. Oberweis had Hastert and McCain; Foster leaned on Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama who endorsed him in a TV ad.
Oberweis, whose name is synonymous with his family’s dairy business and his financial management company, gets another shot at the seat when he squares off again with Foster in November for a new, full term in the 14th Congressional District.
With Foster headed to Washington, the district will have a rookie congressmen after years of enjoying Hastert’s clout. During his two decades in Congress, Hastert funneled millions of dollars to the district. He was the longest-serving Republican speaker in history.
From the Chicago Tribune:
Oberweis has now spent nearly $9 million of his own money on six elections the last six years and still does not hold elected office. The investment manager is better known for his family’s home-delivered milk and ice cream shops but could not translate that profile to victory.
The candidates began hammering each other immediately after winning the special primary Feb. 5. Immigration, Social Security, health care and taxes were key issues, with each side accusing the other of gross distortions.
Oberweis campaigned on familiar themes, promising to combat illegal immigration and fight for lower taxes and less government. Foster campaigned on this year’s election refrain of change, promising to vote to remove U.S. troops from Iraq, support universal health care and target tax breaks to the middle class. Foster painted Oberweis as a supporter of President Bush.
Nationally, the race also was considered by some to be a proxy fight between Republican presidential nominee John McCain, who endorsed Oberweis, and Democratic presidential front-runner Obama, who cut a TV ad for Foster—a characterization eschewed by both national parties.
The 14th District historically has been very Republican, re-electing Hastert with 60 percent of the vote in 2006 and giving President Bush 55 percent of the vote in 2004.
Foster’s victory is further evidence of the changing suburban landscape.
The territory is just the latest suburban Chicago district that’s gone from reliably Republican to potential toss-up.