Nominees Chosen in Key State for Democrats

Jessica Taylor March 21, 2012 · 12:40 PM EDT

Respect your elders? Freshman Rep. Adam Kinzinger’s gamble against long-time Rep. Don Manzullo paid off, as he pulled out a surprising victory in Republicans’ first intraparty primary of 2012.

Democrats decimated Kinzinger’s district by dividing it into eight redrawn congressional districts and leaving the largest portion in Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.’s (D) 2nd District. Kinzinger, 34, chose to take on Manzullo, 67, instead but the freshman’s challenge to the longtime congressman rubbed several in the Illinois GOP the wrong way. Several GOP insiders believed that if Kinzinger hadn’t been so initially aggressive, Manzullo might have stood aside and retired. Instead, the ten-term congressman cobbled together a scrappy campaign and peppered his much younger opponent with sarcastic jabs and attacks.

Especially after Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s super PAC made a radio ad last week to boost Kinzinger in the final days, Manzullo seemed like he had been successful in painting the first term up-and-comer as the establishment choice despite his much longer tenure, and it was Manzullo who’d gotten support from conservative groups such as FreedomWorks and the ACU. In fact, in the waning hours of the campaign, most GOP strategists believed it was Manzullo who would prevail Tuesday evening. Manzullo currently represents 44 percent of the new district compared to Kinzinger’s 31 percent, with about 25 percent new territory for both.

While Manzullo’s loss assures Republicans will lose at least one seat after the state shed a congressional district in reapportionment, Democrats are targeting at least five GOP-held seats in the fall, a critical part of their calculus to taking back the House. But in a one race, the stronger Democratic candidate did not prevail, and in another the favored choice pulled out a surprise victory, reshaping several races.

In the 10th District, businessman Brad Schneider won the Democratic primary, 47 percent to 39 percent, over liberal organizer Ilya Sheyman. Progressive groups poured resources into boosting the 25 year-old Sheyman, painting Schneider as too much of a moderate and zeroing in on a handful of donations he’d made to Republicans because of their support for Israel. Last week, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee and Daily Kos released a Public Policy Polling survey that showed Sheyman with a commanding 18 point lead – a far cry from the eight points he ended up losing by.

Republicans saw Sheyman as the weaker candidate against freshman Rep. Bob Dold, so Schneider’s nomination ensures that the North Shore district will be one of Democrats’ top targets this fall. With Schneider’s win, we continue to rate the race as Leaning toward the Democrat.

Democrats are also targeting Rep. Tim Johnson in the 13th District, but it doesn’t look like they’ll have their top choice of candidate there. National Democrats preferred Greene County state’s attorney Matt Goetten, and with all votes now in, he’s trailing David Gill by 143 Votes, Gill, an emergency room physician, has lost the previous three elections to Johnson by about 20 points each time. The district changed dramatically in redistricting, getting about 7 points more Democratic, but Democrats believe they’d have a better chance with Goetten atop the ballot, although Gill seems to have benefited from his name ID in the primary especially. The quirky Johnson, who works to call every constituent personally, shouldn’t be underestimated, and without a strong candidate here, this one isn’t as competitive as it may appear on paper. We’re moving the race from Pure Toss-Up to Toss-Up/Tilt Republican.

Democrats’ best pickup opportunity in the Land of Lincoln is the 8th District where former Veterans Affairs Assistant Secretary Tammy Duckworth easily turned away former deputy state Treasurer Raja Krishnamoorthi, 66 percent to 34 percent, in the Democratic primary. Duckworth, who narrowly lost a 2006 congressional race against Republican Peter Roskam in a very competitive race, had the backing of Obama strategist David Axelrod and Sen. Dick Durbin, and led Krishnamoorthi in her own polling.

Duckworth will now face outspoken freshman Rep. Joe Walsh in a dramatically redrawn district that favors the Democratic nominee. Duckworth has the edge against the tea party favorite, who’s already thrown down the gauntlet Tuesday evening and challenged her to a series of debates starting next month. We continue to rate the race as Leaning toward the Democrat.

East Moline Alderwoman Cheri Bustos easily won a three-way Democratic primary in the 17th District and will face freshman GOP Rep. Bobby Schilling in November, after Durbin helped clear the primary for her last year. We continue to rate this race as Leaning toward the Democrat.

In the safely Democratic 2nd District, former Rep. Debbie Halvorson’s uphill primary challenge against Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. fell well short, with the incumbent taking a crushing 79 percent. There’s been no love lost between Halvorson, who lost in 2010 to Kinzinger, and Jackson for over a decade, but Halvorson’s revenge match never materialized.

In the open 12th District, both parties’ preferred candidates won their primaries in this toss-up district, a key opportunity for the GOP to play offense instead of defense in the state in November. In the Republican primary, 2010 Lt. Gov. nominee Jason Plummer took 56 percent of the vote over former Belleville Mayor Rodger Cook’s 36 percent. For Democrats, former St. Clair Schools Superintendent Brad Harriman won his three-way race with 70 percent of the vote. Last year, Democratic Rep. Jerry Costello announced he wouldn’t seek reelection and now his former district is a Pure Toss-Up for the fall.

And in the 11th District, former Democratic Rep. Bill Foster took 59 percent of the vote in a three-way primary to officially earn the right to face GOP Rep. Judy Biggert in the fall in a closely watched race. Biggert faced no primary challenge. We rate this race as a Pure Toss-Up.