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National focus on state congressional races

Republican candidate Joe Walsh (right) answers questiduring an 8th congressional debate with Democratic candidate Tammy Duckworth September .File Pho| Steven

Republican candidate Joe Walsh (right) answers a question during an 8th congressional debate with Democratic candidate Tammy Duckworth in September .File Photo | Steven Buyansky~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: November 30, 2012 1:15AM

With six competitive congressional races, there is a lot of attention focused on the Land of Lincoln. Both the national committees for Republicans and Democrats are planning an intense battle over the next five weeks, with each poised to pour millions of dollars into the state’s congressional races. That’s besides SuperPAC money that’s also flowing the way of Illinois, some giving recent boosts to Republican incumbents Joe Walsh and Judy Biggert.

Five of the seats up for grabs are now held by Republicans. Since Democrats recently redrew congressional maps, there are more Democrats living in all of those districts.

Nationally, Democrats need to win back 25 seats to shift the balance. They hope six of those seats could come from Illinois.

“All six of these candidates have been running aggressive campaigns,” said Haley Morris., spokeswoman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

The DCCC has opened 11 offices across the state, and deployed 30 staffers devoted to get-out-the-vote efforts in addition to devoting $6 million to TV ads.

“The path to a Democratic majority goes through Illinois,” DCCC Chairman Steve Israel said in a statement. “Top-tier Democratic candidates across Illinois are already holding Republicans accountable for voting to end Medicare just to give tax breaks to billionaires.” However, last week, Israel tempered Democratic expectations, telling “Roll Call” he was confident in winning two seats.

Still, National Republican Committee Chairman Pete Sessions recently said on C-Span that Illinois “would be ground zero for a problem . . . and if I did stay up at night that’s why I would stay up.”

The Republicans say that Downstate Democrats are vulnerable as the more conservative electorate has not been happy with President Obama’s policies.

Three of the six competitive races are three races in the greater Chicago area that will likely be a battle until the bitter end. Here’s a rundown:

8th Congressional

One of the most-watched contests in the nation pits Tea Party Republican Joe Walsh, an incumbent in the north and northwest suburban 8th Congressional District, against Tammy Duckworth, a Democrat who has gained national recognition. The newly mapped district contains just about 27 percent of the old district.

While one poll has given Duckworth the lead, Walsh has recently benefitted from an infusion of SuperPAC money, totaling $1 million last week alone. The RNCC has also promised more than $457,000 to keep Walsh’s race competitive. Duckworth’s campaign recently criticized Walsh for getting the SuperPAC funding from “far right” groups. That salvo was launched after Walsh had hit Duckworth, saying she spent more time out of state than in the district. Last week, Walsh gave out a prize to a contributor, sending him to California to meet Tammy Duckworth. Duckworth had spoken at a veterans event in the state and spent a few days there.

Walsh said it wasn’t a stunt, but a way to make a point. “I think it’s stunning that five weeks before the election she spent a week in California,” Walsh said. “I thought, what the heck, she’s giving a free, open-to-the-public speech in California. [It was] a fun way to make a very serious point.” Duckworth released a new ad this week featuring the double amputee on a bike with the promise that she would “go the extra mile.”

Walsh, though, pointed to the commercial as another example of Duckworth touting her biography without being specific about what she would bring to the table.

“It’s a beautiful commercial, but you watch it and you don’t know what it’s for,” he said. “Where does she stand on issues?”

Duckworth could not be reached for comment.

10th Congressional

Incumbent Bob Dold, R-Kenilworth, is trying to hang on to the North Shore district that has had GOP representation for decades, despite strong pockets of liberal voters. The seat, once held by U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Highland Park, is considered vulnerable, however. Polls are showing the two at almost a dead heat, with Dold holding a small lead against Democratic challenger Brad Schneider. The two have been running TV commercials and are expected to ratchet up spending in the next few weeks.

“Illinois is going to be competitive, and we’re ready to compete,” said Katie Prill, Midwest spokeswoman for the NRCC.

11th Congressional

The race between Republican incumbent Judy Biggert and Democrat Bill Foster, an ex-incumbent in a nearby district, is almost a dead heat, according to one recent poll.

Biggert has been in Congress since 1998 and her moderate stance had kept her alive in a west suburban district with a shifting electorate. However, Foster, a scientist, is hoping to capitalize on a redrawn congressional map. The money battle has been intense and recently, Biggert’s campaign won an infusion of more than $500,000 from a SuperPAC that specifically supports Republican candidates who back gay marriage.


Downstate, where Republicans believe they will fare better, three races are considered “competitive.”

In the 17th Congressional District in western Illinois, Republican U.S. Rep. Bob Shilling is competing against former East Moline Ald. Cheri Bustos, a Democrat. A recent poll shows the two are neck and neck.

In the 13th Congressional District in central Illinois, Democrat David Gill, who is a doctor, is pitted up against Rodney Davis, a Republican. The seat is considered up for grabs since it’s an open contest to succeed U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson, a Republican who is retiring.

In the 12th Congressional District in southern Illinois, Bill Enyart, a Democrat and a onetime Illinois National Guard general. is facing off against Jason Plummer, a Republican. Democrats are working to keep this seat as U.S. Rep. Jerry Costello, a Democrat, is retiring.

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