Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=171587
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GOP battle for the House starts with keeping Kirk’s seat Republican

by Yisrael Shapiro
Nov 02, 2010


With nearly 92  percent of the district reporting Tuesday night, Robert Dold held a small but firm lead in the race to be Illinois’ next congressman from the 10th District, with more than 51 percent of the vote.

Going into Tuesday's election, the 10th District was Illinois’ only one judged likely to switch from Republican-controlled to Democrat. Mark Kirk, the district’s current representative, gave up his seat to run for U.S. Senate.

The district, which mostly comprises northern suburbs of Chicago, has historically been represented by Republicans, but pundits consider it the bluest of all of Illinois’ red districts. A majority of residents voted for Al Gore for president in 2000 and for John Kerry in 2004. It voted overwhelmingly for Barack Obama in 2008.  

The 10th was not the only congressional race being watched closely.

With the Republican Party making massive gains throughout the general election, Illinois was on track to mirror that trend, with several districts slipping from blue to red. Aside from the Dold race, Illinois’ 11th 14th and 17th Congressional Districts were also leaning Republican. Another, the 8th, found the incumbent Democrat, Melissa Bean, leading by fewer than 500 votes against her challenger, Joe Walsh, in a district that had been in GOP hands for decades until Bean won.

In the 10th, pundits had wondered whether Dold might be too conservative for the electorate. Dold describes himself as a fiscal conservative and a social moderate. According to his campaign website, he supports abortion-rights, and although he opposes same-sex marriage, he supports gay couples’ right to enter into contractual relationships together.

Dan Seals, the Democratic candidate for the spot, has questioned Dold’s status as a social moderate, pointing to his positions on gun control and his opposition to gay marriage. According to his website, Seals supports full rights for gay couples and wants to immediately repeal the military’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell policy,” which precludes openly gay people from serving.

Seals ran two unsuccessful campaigns in the past, barely losing to Mark Kirk.

Going into the election, the Republican Party anticipated great national gains in the House. Currently, the Democratic Party controls 255 out of the 435 seats, with two vacancies. 218 seats are needed to hold a majority of the House, and pundits expected the GOP to rise to the challenge.

Pre-election polls showed a clear pattern of strong results for the Republican Party. FiveThirtyEight, a polling aggregate blog licensed to the New York Times, listed the GOP as being likely to win 232 seats. The New York Times itself predicted 174 seats as likely to go Republican and another 42 too close to call. RealClearPolitics, an aggregate based in Chicago, expected the GOP to likely take 224 seats, with 44 a tossup.

Polls said this pattern of Republican gains was likely to pop up in Illinois as well. Before the election, only seven of Illinois’ congressional districts were held by Republicans. Of the 12 Democratic seats, pundits expected close elections in three.

Both FiveThirtyEight and RealClearPolitics predicted a strong Republican victory in the southwest suburban 11th District, won by Democrat Deborah Halvorson when longtime incumbent Republican Jerry Weller retired two years ago. 

Republicans also eked out a slim victory in the west suburban 14th District formerly held by House Speaker Dennis Hastert that turned Democrat two years ago and the downstate 17th District represented by Phil Hare. That district had been represented by Democrats for nearly 30 years.