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Illinois' 17th Congressional District to be Decided by Independents

by Carl Wicklander, published

In Illinois' 17th Congressional District, a re-match is set which may help determine the balance of power in the House of Representatives.

Stretching from Rockford in north central Illinois, extending south and west along the border with Iowa, before finally reaching Peoria in central Illinois, the 17th district sees Colona native and former Republican congressman Bobby Schilling attempting a political comeback.

In 2010, Schilling, a former insurance agent and restaurant proprietor, challenged Democratic incumbent U.S. Rep. Phil Hare. In a year that saw the GOP regain control of the House of Representatives, Schilling defeated Hare 53-43.

Yet, Schilling's congressional victory was paired with Democratic governor Pat Quinn winning election to a full term along with strong Democratic majorities in the General Assembly that redrew congressional districts. Instead of a district that snaked north and south along the Mississippi River, the 17th district now includes the metropolitan areas of Rockford and Peoria, making it more conducive to Democrats.

In one of his first votes as a freshman congressman in 2011, Schilling voted against the roving wiretaps of the Patriot Act on the grounds that the House had less than 45 minutes to debate before voting. When the bill came for a second vote, Schilling voted against it a second time. He also joined the Center Aisle Caucus, a little-known group seeking civility between the major parties which during Schilling's time in Congress hosted around 40 members. Regardless, Schilling was quickly targeted by Democrats for the 2012 election.

Then, with President Barack Obama headlining all ballots, Schilling faced off against Democratic challenger

Cheri Bustos, a former East Moline city council member. With the favorable district and a big turnout for the Illinoisan at the top of the ticket, Bustos prevailed 53-47.

Announcing his run last summer, Schilling declared that he would focus on the middle class while also emphasizing a jobs program. He has also said he expects the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to be a top issue in the campaign. Bustos has diverted specific talk about the ACA, noting that she was not in office when it was passed, but still sticks with general talking points about health care in the campaign.

Shortly after Schilling's announcement, a September poll showed him trailing Bustos 45-44. However, he led Bustos 51-34 among independents. As a result, Bustos has touted her involvement with the Blue Dog Democrat coalition and No Labels, emphasizing that she has a bipartisan streak.

Recent fundraising statistics show Bustos with over $1 million compared to Schilling's $300,000. Despite the early gap, the National Republican Congressional Committee last week hosted fundraisers for Schilling and other Republican candidates considered competitive.

Bobby Schilling is not the only Illinois Republican looking to reclaim a seat lost in 2012. Robert Dold, in the 10th district (suburban Chicago), is running again after being defeated after only one term. With political experts pointing to 2014 as a potential big year for Republicans, the GOP will have to win the districts Schilling is contesting: leaning slightly Democratic, but with a significant amount of undecided and independent voters.

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