Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Illinois U.S. Senate Race

Race of the Day

Illinois U.S. Senate

August 6, 2008
90 Days Until Election Day

Status: Democrat Incumbent
2004 Presidential Result: Blue State (Midwest)

Outlook: Safe Democrat

The Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate in the Land of Lincoln, Steve Sauerberg, a family physician, is a first time candidate for office without much recognition in the state and without much in the way of campaigning polish. He comes across as very sincere in his beliefs and what he is trying to accomplish, especially considering he is not getting much in the way of help from other political figures. As an active Republican in the state, I hope to be able to win as many votes as possible for Dr. Sauerberg (even if they are just a handful of ones he might not otherwise have gotten), but I also realize that there will be no "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" story here. The underdog is going to get drubbed at the polls.

In contrast to Sauerberg's political experience, his opponent, two term Democrat Senator Dick Durbin, is about as skilled with a soundbite as any other politician you will find. His critics will say that his political debating and speaking skills are about all he has going for him, and at times, he has been disaparged by Illinois political watchers of various stripes, but his talents on Capitol Hill have been enough to catapult him to the number two ranking among Senate Democrats, and as the only statewide elected official who is not from the City of Chicago, Durbin is isolated to a large extent from the chaos consuming Democrats at the state government level. The fact that Durbin will be sharing a ticket with his Junior colleague from his home state is only of course going to make it easier for him in this election cycle.

Durbin had stirred up quite a hornet's nest a couple years back by a statement he made in which he seemed to compare U.S. troops who guarded terrorists to Nazis and other historically disreputable groups. Eventually, he was forced (some say by an angry phone call from Chicago's Democrat Mayor) to apologize on the Senate floor for his choice of words. At the time, Republicans in the state pledged that they would go all out to defeat him in 2008. But the incident eventually faded from memory to some, no strong Republican emerged, and Durbin was guaranteed smooth sailing.

In many ways, Durbin has been extremely lucky during his Senate career. He was first elected in 1996 against a wealthy opponent, who was an extremely surprising winner in a primary, but who was painted as too ideologically conservative to win in a state like Illinois, which has only trended more strongly to the Democrats since. In 2002, he faced an opponent, (whose last name happened to be extremely similar to Durbin's own) who was a good match for the state politically but who had extremely limited financial resources to campaign on. Thus, while the little known Republican was endorsed by many newspapers in the state, including both from Chicago, Durbin won easily. In 2008, Durbin now faces Sauerberg, who certainly does not come across as a right-wing extremist, and who has been willing to use some personal resources on his campaign, but when few people in the state even know a race is going on, there will not be much of a contest.

The Party of Lincoln in the Land of Lincoln seems to remain in a perpetual rebuilding stage for most of the past decade and most of its attention will go to down ballot races this fall, including several hotly contested U.S. House contests, rather than those above it on the ballot, where Senators Durbin and Obama will carry the state easily. The Senior Senator's opponent is game to campaign to the end and make his case, even though is is unlikely his opponent will even agree to deabte him, but Durbin's margin in Illinois should outpace Obama's by at least several points.

Sauerberg campaign link:

2008 U.S. Senate races predicted: 4 D, 4 R
Predicted Senate balance of power thus far: 43 D, 30 R


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