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Voters Offered Little Choice on Foreign Policy in Ill. Congressional Race

by Carl Wicklander, published

In Illinois' 15th Congressional District, veteran incumbent U.S. Representative John Shimkus, a Republican, is running against a lightly-funded Democratic challenger, Eric Thorsland. Taxes and jobs have dominated the candidates' talking points, and while both candidates have quite a bit of agreement, one issue has been generally neglected throughout the campaign: foreign policy.

Midterm elections typically do not center on foreign policy -- with 2006 serving as a notable exception -- and this one has been no different. However, the message voters have gotten from the race in the 15th District and other congressional races throughout the state implies that the status quo of a continuing U.S. presence in the Middle East and confrontation with Russia will continue.

Shimkus has gone on record supporting the air campaign against ISIS, along with most of Illinois' congressional delegation. The congressman has been coy about whether American troops should return to Iraq.

In a recent radio interview, Shimkus said forces in Iraq should come from the local population, not America, saying the country "is still war-weary." On whether American troops might eventually return, Shimkus said it was "not the time yet."

Shimkus was one of many Republicans who stood up

against President Obama's initial decision to intervene in the Syrian civil war in 2013. He has since supported an amendment that proposed arming fighters in Syria. Thorsland has said less about the region and ISIS, but has reported that he is generally supportive of the president's actions to defeat the group.

A delegate to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, Shimkus also recently revealed he is ready to vote for military action to support Ukraine against Russian-backed separatists. In an interview with the Chicago Tribune, Thorsland said, "We need to continue to support NATO and need to push back with more conviction the defense of Ukraine."

Altogether, hawkish Republican candidates have been succeeding in Illinois. Incumbent U.S. Reps. Adam Kinzinger and Aaron Schock look ready to easily win re-election. Ex-congressman Robert Dold, who is looking to reclaim the seat he narrowly lost in 2012, is within striking distance of U.S. Rep. Brad Schneider.

Former UN ambassador John Bolton, a divisive figure and well-known hawk, has endorsed Dold and his PAC has donated to Dold's campaign.

Despite standing against President Obama's proposed military strike against Syria a year ago, questions have already arisen about how a larger GOP majority in the House and in the Senate will behave on foreign policy.

Shimkus' statements show that he is aware of the country's general reluctance about entering more military confrontations, but he is also ready to continue voting for military action. Eric Thorsland has tried to differentiate himself from the incumbent, but with so much agreement between the candidates -- though not relegated to foreign policy -- voters in the 15th district have actually been left with relatively little choice on November 4.

Image: U.S. Representative John Shimkus

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