Ballot Watch: West Midwest
This is Ballot Watch. Today is the the fifth of a series of articles on the upcoming ballot initiatives and some key local elections in various regions around the country. Some of these cover topics in common with multiple states, while others look at a state level.
Today’s Ballot Watch is the first half of a two-part article covering the Midwest. By editorial discretion, and in an attempt to divide up the articles into fairly equal numbers of states, the “Midwest” is here defined by the states you see in the graphic — Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Wisconsin doesn’t have much on which to comment at the moment, though we may have things to say about it in the next two months. Of the other six states, I’ll discuss three of them today, and three tomorrow.
There are a couple of Democratic-leaning districts with first-time Republican incumbents who were elected with Tea Party support in 2010. There are also three open seats with very close races, two with Republican incumbents and one with a retiring Democrat. There is also an interesting ballot measure that could affect voter turnout.
Congressional District 17 is an oddly-gerrymandered district on the west-central portion of the state. It’s mostly rural, but still has a Cook rating of D+6. Its Republican incumbent, Representative Bobby Schilling (R-Colona), was elected with Tea Party support in 2010. He’s being opposed by Democrat East Moline Councilwoman Cheri Bustos. The two have war chests of comparable size, Schilling having raised almost $1.5 million, Bustos close with nearly $1.3 million. However, Schilling has spent nearly a half million dollars of public funds on mass mailings the last two years, more than any other member of the House of Representatives, having distributed over 1.1 million flyers since he took office in 2011. President Obama carried this district 60 percent to Senator John McCain’s 38 percent in 2008, and Schilling is polling at only 50 percent in his own internal polls as of early August. This seat is a possible pickup for the Democrats.
Congressional District 10 is also Democratic-leaning, situated on the north side of the Chicago metro area, with a Cook rating of D+8. The district includes the suburb of Waukegan. The Republican incumbent is Robert Dold, and his Democratic challenger is Brad Schneider. Dold has raised almost twice as much money as Schneider, nearly $3 million to Schneider’s $1.6 million. A recent poll run by various Democratic-leaning organizations shows the race substantially tied, while Dold’s internal polling shows him with a ten-point lead. When information about the two candidates’ policies was presented to voters polled, Schneider overtook Dold 53 percent to 42 percent. Depending on who you believe, this could be a close race, or an easy reëlection for the guy with more money.
Congressional District 11 is mostly horizontal, running to the south and west of Chicago, but with a long tail reaching southward to almost the middle of the state. The district includes the town of Naperville, and is mostly rural. The seat was previously held by Republican Adam Kinzinger, who is now running to represent District 16, because redistricting moved him across the border. Also moved by redistricting is District 13’s Representative Judith Borg “Judy” Biggert (R-Hinsdale), who is now the general election Republican candidate for District 11. She is being challenged by yet another House incumbent who is being moved by redistricting: District 14’s Representative Bill Foster (D-Winfield). (See below — redistricting after the 2010 Census has really shuffled these seats around.) The two candidates’ campaign war chests stand roughly equal, each having raised about $1.6 million. Biggert has been in Congress since 1999. RealClearPolitics rates this race a “Toss Up”.
Congressional District 12 is a mirror image of the 11th, with a retiring Democratic, rather than Republican, incumbent, Representative Jerry Costello (D-Belleville). The district is in the southwest corner of the state, near St Louis, Missouri. Republican Jason Plummer has raised almost a half million dollars, while his Democratic opponent, former Illinois National Guard Adjutant General William Enyart, has raised a shade under $180,000. Election Projection gives Enyart a weak edge, but it seems to be a close and volatile race. Plummer is running on a platform of “values” and “common sense” and has released a “12-point jobs plan.”
Congressional District 13, made up of parts of the old Districts 15 and 17, is situated just north of the new District 12. Republican Rodney Davis is running against Democrat David Gill. Davis accuses Gill of supporting “radical environmental policies” which, he claims, will “raise gas and energy prices.” Gill is an ER doctor. Davis has a degree in political science from Millikin University. Neither have previously held elected office, though Davis has worked for Illinois Congressman John Shimkus. RCP says the district “leans Republican,” but a recent poll gives Gill a definite lead with 36 percent to Davis’s 30 percent. (Independent candidate John Hartman is polling at nine percent, and the remainder are undecided.)
Public pension amendment 49 is a public employee scapegoating measure, an attempt to make it difficult to increase benefits — perhaps even cost of living adjustments — for public employees. It would require a three-fifths majority vote from the General Assembly, city councils or school districts to raise any pension benefits for any retired public workers. This new rule would apply to all levels of state government. It is an attempt to amend the Illinois Constitution, and thus make this policy hard to undo in the future.
There are two Indiana districts with incumbents leaving the House, one held by a Democrat, one by a Republican. A third district may turn on the public’s thoughts about the Affordable Care Act.
Congressional District 2 is based around South Bend. Democratic incumbent Joe Donnelly is running for Senate. His seat is being sought by West Point graduate and U.S. Army combat veteran Democrat Brendan Mullen and Republican Indiana State Representative Jackie Walorski. Walorski has so far out-raised Mulen, $1.1 million to $800,000. Walorski lost narrowly when she ran against Donnelly two years ago, but redistricting has made District 2 more heavily Republican. Both RCP and the Election Projection site view this as a possible Republican pickup.
Congressional District 5 is currently held by retiring Representative Dan Burton (R-Indianapolis), who has been in Congress since 1983. Running for his soon-to-be-vacated seat are Marine aviator Democrat Scott Reske, Republican Susan Brooks, and Libertarian Chard Reid. Brooks has a substantial money advantage, having raised almost $900,000 to Reske’s $280,000. Brooks has served as Deputy Mayor of Indianapolis, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Indiana, and most recently as Senior Vice President and General Counsel for Ivy Tech Community College. RCP views this seat as likely to stay with the Republicans, though much may depend on the number of votes Reid draws away from Brooks.
Congressional District 8 is in the southwest portion of the state, reaching as far north as Covington. It is mostly rural, with a Cook rating of R+7. Incumbent Larry Bucshon (R-Newburgh) is facing Democrat David L. Crooks. Crooks served in the state House from 1996 to 2008. Bucshon, a former heart surgeon, is running against Crooks’s support of the Affordable Care Act, and brags that he (Bucshon) “voted four times for full repeal of Obamacare and over 30 times to defund, dismantle, or repeal portions of this disastrous law.” (That isn’t supposed to make him sound ineffective, I guess, despite the lack of effect from all these votes.) Bucshon has also called Crooks a “career politician” (that may be supposed to be an insult, though one might think it would qualify Crooks for a job as, well, a politician). Fundraising for the two is fairly close, Bucshon so far having raised almost $850,000 to Crooks’ $740,000, though Crooks has retained far more of it on hand for the final push. RCP rates this district as likely to remain with Bucshon.
There are three interesting races to watch in Minnesota, and two important ballot measures. In all three of these particular Congressional races, Republican incumbents are facing real challenges from Democratic opponents. Democrats could gain one or more seats in Minnesota, and the ballot measures are likely to increase voter participation in a state that already draws the nation’s highest percentage of registered voters to the polls — nearly 70 percent.
Congressional District 2 Incumbent Republican John Kline is facing a stiff challenge from Democrat Mike Obermueller in this R+1 suburban district just south of Minneapolis and Saint Paul, despite the former’s vast fundraising advantage (over $1.8 million to a paltry $300,000). Obermueller has been pushing Kline hard on Medicare issues. How this plays out could say something about how the issue is seen nationally. Kline is a veteran of the Marine Corps, and has served in Congress since 2003. Obermueller is a former member of the state House.
Congressional District 6 is the home of one of the most colorful members of Congress, three-term Republican Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, who is facing an unexpected challenge from Democrat Jim Graves. Bachmann, founder of the House Tea Party Caucus, was the best-funded Congressional candidate in the nation in 2010. This year, she has raised an almost unbelievable $16 million to a mere half-million for Graves. According to a recent Greenberg Quinlan Rosner poll, Bachmann leads her opponent by only 48 to 46 percent, within the margin of error. Bachmann’s penchant for making outlandish statements may not be playing well the fourth time around.
Congressional District 8 is a large and rural district, including the “arrowhead” region that points above Lake Superior. Often called the “Iron Range”, it has a Cook rating of D+3, and is a traditional bastion of Democratic-leaning working-class voters. Democrat Rick Nolan is seeking to unseat Republican Chip Cravaack, who rode into office in 2010 with significant Tea Party support, narrowly defeating the highly-respected long time Democratic Representative James Oberstar. RCP views this race as a “Toss Up”, and the Election Projection site has alternated between slight advantage for Nolan or Cravaack.
There are two important ballot measures in Minnesota this year. I’ve written about them before. (By the way, if you follow that link, Minnesota courts have ruled that the ballot names of the questions will be the ones the state legislature wanted.)
The Marriage Amendment to the Minnesota Constitution would define marriage as being only between one man and one woman. There already is a state law that defines marriage this way, and Minnesota does not recognize any form of “civil union.” Nevertheless, there is a move to write this into the Constitution. The polling on the popularity of this question is confusing, but Minnesota has a real chance at becoming the first state to reject such an amendment.
The Voter Identification Amendment would amend the state Constitution to require voters to show ID before being allowed to vote. Minnesota has one of the least restrictive — and cleanest — set of voting procedures in the country, allowing same-day registration at the polling place, and easy vouching for new voters, plus a set of simple procedures for absentee voting. There are serious problems with the Amendment as it is written — it is not clear, for example, whether absentee voters, say on active duty in Afghanistan, would have to return to their polling place in Minnesota and show a picture ID before being allowed to cast an absentee ballot. Nevertheless, this proposed Amendment is currently polling well.
Tomorrow, I’ll cover the eastern half: Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.
- Illinois Congressional Races worth watching (bluedownstate.wordpress.com)
- Some Republicans Try Out a New Campaign Theme: Bipartisanship (nytimes.com)
- Boehner headlining Biggert, Dold fund-raisers Thursday (blogs.suntimes.com)
- Bustos and Schilling receive national party backing (galesburg.com)
- DCCC steals Illinois Review footage for Plummer attack ad (illinoisreview.typepad.com)
- Logarchism » Ballot Watch: East Midwest
- Logarchism » 113 th Congress: Veer Slightly Left; It’s the Last One on the Right
About dcpetterson (187 posts)
D. C. Petterson is a novelist and a software consultant in Minnesota who has been writing science fiction since the age of six. He is the author of A Melancholy Humour, Rune Song and Still Life. He lives with his wife, two dogs, two cats, and a lizard, and insists that grandchildren are the reward for having survived teenagers. When not writing stories or software, he plays guitar and piano, engages in political debate, and reads a lot of history and physics texts—for fun. Follow on Twitter @dcpetterson