Despite Gerrymandering Efforts, IL-8 Surprisingly Competitive in 2014

As the Republican Party seeks to retain control of the U.S. House of Representatives in 2014, an Illinois district that favors Democrats could eventually become more competitive.

Illinois’ 8th Congressional District, which encompasses parts of Cook, Kane, DuPage, and Lake Counties, is a district that was redrawn after the 2010 census to favor Democrats.

The incumbent is Democrat Tammy Duckworth, a Thai-born double leg amputee veteran of the Iraq war. After her active military service ended, Duckworth served as director of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs and later as an assistant secretary in the U.S. department of the VA. Duckworth lost in 2006 against then-State Senator Peter Roskam in the 6th district.

In 2012, Duckworth defeated freshman U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh. Walsh had been elected on the tea party-inspired wave of 2010 when he upset incumbent Melissa Bean. Despite little fundraising from the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), Walsh defeated Bean by fewer than 300 votes.

Well-liked by conservatives nationally, a series of gaffes and the discovery of past financial missteps hobbled his 2012 re-election campaign, which he lost by ten points. Walsh now hosts a show on Chicago’s WIND-AM radio.

After a well-publicized primary against Indian-American Manju Goel, U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Colonel Larry Kaifesh emerged as the GOP nominee in the 2014 race. Goel raised about twice as much money as Kaifesh, but she received less than 30 percent of the primary vote.

Despite a belief that the sizable Indian-American community in the district would help carry her, the Goel campaign was plagued by charges of FEC violations regarding a prominent donor, as well as a disreputable website smearing Kaifesh.

When he announced his candidacy, Kaifesh said:

“The people of the 8th congressional district deserve a representative who will be beholden to them, not special interests or the failed policies that our current representative in Congress continues to support.”

After winning the March primary, Kaifesh said he is going to focus on the economy, repealing the Affordable Care Act, promoting the Keystone Pipeline, and shrinking the overall size of government. However, Kaifesh’s task may be difficult.

Kane County, part of which is in the 8th district, recently saw its unemployment rate drop to 7.3 percent, closer to the national average than Illinois’ overall unemployment rate, which is still almost 9 percent.

According to OpenSecrets.org, the 2012 race was one of the country’s most expensive with more than $7.3 million spent altogether by both candidates.

Money could again play a role in the 8th district in 2014. As of the most recent filing deadline, Duckworth has raised over $1.5 million with the bulk coming from the legal and health industries. Kaifesh is hopeful he can attract NRCC support in a way Walsh did not in his 2010 run.

However, according to Paul Green, director of the Institute for Politics at Roosevelt University in Chicago, the nearby 10th district is a more likely recipient of funds. The 10th is a re-match of the 2012 race between Republican Robert Dold and Democratic incumbent Brad Schneider. Dold lost to Schneider by only two points in the last election.

The race for IL-10 was recently changed from “Leans Democrat” to “Toss-Up/Tilts Democrat” by the Rothenberg Political Report. The 8th district still generally leans Democratic, but Kaifesh’s experience running against a better funded primary opponent could make the district more competitive by fall.

If he can pull off the upset, Kaifesh would join U.S. Reps. Peter Roskam and Randy Hultgren as the only Chicago-area Republicans in Congress.

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