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Illinois primaries offer big showdowns, much drama
Illinois' primary is Tuesday, March 20, and Chicagoans will be voting in a number of hot contests, among them: President of the United States:
- This race will likely not be that big of a draw in a blue town like Chicago, which counts the incumbent, unopposed President Barack Obama amongst the indigenous. But in the Republican primary the real contest in Illinois is between front-runner Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, who is polling just slightly behind Romney. A win on Tuesday could bolster Romney's front-runner status, and bring him more support down the road. The former Massachusetts governor is poised to do well in moderate, suburban areas of the state, whereas Santorum's conservative tone will likely appeal to downstate, rural voters. But Santorum will likely split at least some of that vote with Newt Gringrich--just one disadvantage he faces. Romney is also outspending Santorum by estimates of five-to-one, and he is said to have a much more organized campaign than Santorum. 54 delegates are up for grabs on Tuesday. CNN estimates Romney has 518 delegates and Santorum 239. That's compared to Gingrich's 139 and the libertarian darling Ron Paul's 69. 1,144 are needed to lock down the Republican nomination.
- Congressman Jesse L. Jackson Jr. is fighting for his political life against the first real challenger he's faced since his rookie run in 1995 against Emil Jones. He's up against former Congresswoman Debbie Halvorson, who is trying to reclaim a seat in the U.S. House after losing one in the 2010 conservative sweep. This has been a hard-fought and bitter contest for the 2nd Congressional District seat, one that, at times, has focused almost entirely on race. Halvorson, who is white, accused Jackson of race-baiting--among other fouls, like lying about her congressional voting record--after he released a radio commercial that accused her of voting against President Obama "88 times." Despite a Congressional Quarterly report disproving that claim, Jackson's camp has refused to retract the statement. Jackson could have trouble defending his incumbency because he's been drawn into a new district that includes more rural, largely white areas like Kankakee, and a smaller section of Chicago's South Side, which is largely African American. He has also been dogged by an extramarital scandal, and alleged ties to jailed former Governor Rod Blagojevich's scheme to sell President Obama's old senate seat.
- In the 8th Congressional District, northwest of Chicago, two Democrats are competing to unseat Tea Party firebrand Joe Walsh. Tammy Duckworth, an Iraq war veteran who has held two senior positions with Veteran's Affairs, and Raja Krishnamoorthi, an Indian American owner of a small tech company, are vying for the nomination. Their talking points are almost identical--a wide social net for the needy, government investment to kickstart the economy--and both have taken to going after Walsh instead of each other. Walsh moved into the 8th District after this summer's remapping to defend his seat rather than face fellow Republican Randy Hultgren in the 14th District. Krishnamoorthi is one of nine Indian American candidates, nationwide, trying to be the first crop of their ethnic group to be elected to congress.
- On the South Side, it is widely believed that Bobby Rush will win yet another term as 1st District congressman. But five Democrats are challenging him for the party's nomination. One of the candidates, community activist Fred Smith, even got the Chicago Tribune's endorsement. Still, Rush has deep roots in the African American communities he has represented for nearly 20 years, and he's well-liked, despite the fact that his legislative performance has been lackluster at best, sometimes. But Rush has regularly defeated his opponents by margins of 80 percent in the past, and there are few signs of any major shift in support. That said, it's not clear, what, if any chance his opponents have come Tuesday.
- The 21st District state representative race between Rudy Lozano and Silvana Tabares is, perhaps, the only Southwest Side contest Tuesday in which an independent stands a good chance of going to Springfield, the Chicago Sun Times' Mark Brown wrote last weekend. Brown's assessment is a bit drastic, but Lozano, the progressive Brown was referring to, has loads of support from like-minded organizations, and labor and education unions. A number of progressive local pols like Ricardo Muñoz, Jesus "Chuy" Garcia, Luis Guittierez and Toni Preckwinkle have also banded around him. Tabares, a former journalist, was hand picked to run in the 23rd District after Dan Burke's Democratic colleagues in the General Assembly safely mapped him into the 1st District to preserve his incumbency.
- Lozano might have the best chance of beating an establishment candidate, but there are also a handful of other Southwest Side races where progressive Latinos are trying to unseat machine incumbents. The Chicago Reporter wrote about a number of those races earlier this month. Most notably, is Michele Piszczor's bitter battle with House Speaker and 22nd District state Rep. Michael Madigan, arguably the most powerful politician in the state. Piszczor has generated a lot of publicity but is considered a longshot, at best. There's also Adolfo Mondragón, a Yale and University of Chicago graduate, who is running against longtime incumbent Antonio Muñoz, a product of the Hispanic Democratic Organization, for 1st District state senator. Mondragón lost to Muñoz in 2010, and, once again, has far less money to run with than Muñoz. And Cuahtémoc "Temoc" Morfin and Josip "Joe" Trutin, are trying to unseat 2nd District state Rep. Edward "Eddie" Acevedo. Like Mondragón, both candidates also have far less money than Acevedo, and Trutin lost to Acevedo in 2010. But Morfin ran for 25th Ward Alderman in 2011, and came very close to beating incumbent Danny Solis, one of the most clout-heavy city council members. So, who knows?
- North Side voters casting ballots in the 39th District state representative race will be choosing between Will Guzzardi, a Brown-educated former journalist, and incumbent Toni Berrios, the daughter of the all-powerful Joe Berrios, leader of the Cook County Democrats and the Cook County Assessor. The race has widely been framed as a choice between the more progressive Guzzardi, who claims he's hellbent on ending the infinite conflicts of interest that permeate Springfield, and Berrios, the clout-heavy heiress to her father's political throne, who is comfortable going along with the cozy, political status quo.
- In the statehouse's 10th District, on the West Side, voters will have to chose between incumbent Derrick Smith, who was charged with accepting a bribe last week, and Tom Swiss, a former Republican whom the Tribune claims has shown constituents "considerable disrespect." While speaking with the Reporter last week, Swiss claimed he was familiar with black and low-income voters because he has lived in Kenya, worked in prisons and has volunteered with charities. Throughout his campaign he has spoken in similarly general terms. That said, Smith still has a good chance at winning, regardless of the corruption charge. He's black, and he's running in a predominantly black district that usually elects black candidates. It also helps that Michael Madigan has pumped tens of thousands of dollars into Smith's campaign and has shown no signs of wavering his support.
- The race for the adjoining 5th District state senate seat is perhaps one of the nastiest contests in town. The pugilists: incumbent Annazette Collins vs. the challenger, Patricia Van-Pelt Watkins. Van-Pelt Watkins has used allegations that Collins illegally claimed homeowner exemptions, lived outside the district and unlawfully obtained an FHA-backed mortgage to sling mud at her opponent throughout the race. Collins, who has yet to provide a logical explanation for any of the accusations, opted to engage in a public feud with Secretary of State Jesse White--who backs Van-Pelt Watkins--instead of addressing the issues. Collins threatened to sue White when he called her the "most unethical" person in government, and likened her to the incarcerated Blagojevich. Collins never sued. Her support has dwindled, though, and she faces an uphill battle in getting re-elected.
- The statehouse's 26th District spans from the near North Side all the way to the far South Side. The race pits 25-year-old Christian Mitchell against Kenny Johnson, who has a background in marketing. Mitchell, a University of Chicago graduate who has helped write state legislation and has worked in Cook County President Preckwinkle's office, has gathered an immense amount of support going into this race. Johnson is no slouch, though, and both claim to be progressive candidates. The 26th District is one of about a dozen seats in the General Assembly that will see a new legislator this year, due to incumbents retiring or seeking other offices. It was vacated last year, when Will Burns won a seat in the city council, and the incumbent, Kim DuBuclet, is not seeking re-election.
- Journalists, lawyers and activists are among the minority of voters who are attuned to this office, so it's usually a race that's off most folks' radars. Not this year. 22nd Ward Alderman Muñoz is going toe-to-toe with incumbent Dorothy Brown. Muñoz recently signed a pledge presented by the Illinois Open Government Data Initiative promising to make records more digitally accessible. Brown did not, although Paul Baker, of Open Government, said the clerk's office claims she was unaware of the pledge. Muñoz and others have criticized Brown for running a disorganized and inefficient office--one Munoz said he wants to bring "into the 21st century."