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Washington Matters

Loss of Illinois House Seat Not Easily Dismissed

The spin doctors went to work immediately after Democrat Bill Foster defeated Republican Jim Oberweis in a special election Saturday for the seat left vacant when former House Speaker Dennis Hastert resigned. Democrats called it a political earthquake while Republicans dismissed it as a single election that doesn't mean much for the broad picture. I doubt even Republicans believe that.

It true that over time, many special elections have proven relatively insignificant, but this was no run-of-the-mill contest. Hastert had been the longest serving Republican Speaker of the House, highly popular and a strong backer of Oberweis. And this is a solid and longtime Republican district, one that stretches from the western suburbs of Chicago into rurarl areas as far as the Mississippi. In 2004, President Bush captured 55 of the vote. 

Republicans made a big push to hold the seat, pumping $1.2 million into the campaign so Oberweis could outspend Foster 2-1. GOP presidential nominee John McCain endorsed and helped raise funds for Oberweiss, while Barack Obama, eager to prove his strength on his home turf, threw his support to Foster. Foster promised to help get U.S. troops out of Iraq and to raise taxes on the wealthy, positions Obama shares. Oberweis said the surge in Iraq is working and accused Foster of wanting to raise taxes on the Midldle Class, echoing McCain's stands. 

In the end, Foster won 52 percent to 48 percent, with a turnout of close to 25 percent of registered voters, not bad for a special election, though nothing like what the presidential primaries have drawn. Foster won in almost every part of the district. He even edged Oberweis in Kendall County, according to Congressional Quarterly. Kendall, a GOP bastion, was Hastert's base. It gave Bush 61 percent of the vote in 2004.

A neophyte Democrat winning in a Republican district with that kind of political legacy has to shake up GOP lawmakers and make them wonder if a bloodbath awaits them in November. It's not hard to see why Democrats are celebrating today. 

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