Illinois Election: Very Bad News for GOP

Forget the Republican spin. There are no positives in the party's loss of former Speaker Hastert's seat in a fast-growing district.

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Democrat Bill Foster beat Republican Jim Oberweis in the special election to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of former House Speaker Dennis Hastert. This is a district George W. Bush carried 54 to 42 percent in 2000 and 56 to 44 percent in 2004. Republican spin artists can say that Oberweis was a flawed candidate, that special elections are more volatile than general elections, etc., etc. But the bottom line is that this is very bad news for House Republicans. The seats of the former speaker and of former Majority Leader Tom DeLay are now held by Democrats.

Barack Obama cut a spot for Foster, and his home state popularity does suggest that Republicans could lose other Illinois open seats in November—the 11th and 18th districts—and Democrats could fare well in seats Republicans held marginally in 2006—the 6th, 10th, and 15th. And that Obama, at least at his current levels of popularity, could help Democratic House challengers elsewhere.

Demographically, the 14th is the fastest-growing Illinois district. Kane County, Hastert's home at the edge of the Chicago metropolitan area, is one of the fastest-growing counties in the country. This suggests that an Obama-led Democratic Party could be fully competitive in the exurbs, as the Mark Warner- and Tim Kaine-led Virginia Democratic Party has been in the exurbs of Washington, D.C. George W. Bush got huge margins in the exurbs; he carried 97 of the 100 fastest-growing counties in both 2000 and 2004. John McCain can't count on that kind of support in 2008.