Phil Hare, the Democrat who represents Illinois's seventeenth congressional district, ran unopposed for a second term in 2008. A union man, he's an opponent of free trade who voted Yes for the stimulus, cap-and-trade, and health care bills. In 2008 he earned a 100 percent rating from Americans for Democratic Action, the ACLU, and the public employees union AFSCME. In two elections, Hare has never faced a strong Republican opponent. He's served in Congress during boom times for Democrats. But those days are over.
A November poll conducted by a local news organization found that Hare's reelect number had dropped to below 50 percent -- and large majorities in his district opposed to the liberal program he's voted to enact. On Election Day, he'll face Bobby Schilling, a small businessman who's running his first political campaign. Schilling and Hare have a couple things in common: both attended Black Hawk College and both worked union jobs. But their economic philosophies could not be farther apart.
Schilling wants to curb government spending and encourage entrepreneurial risk taking. He was struck by recent discussions with fellow small-businessmen in his district. "I ran into business owner after business owner who wanted to expand," he told me, "but did not want to take the risk" at a time of economic uncertainty and likely tax increases. He says he wants the voters in his district to understand that a vote for Phil Hare is a vote for Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
It may be a tough sell. The Cook Report says the seat is "Solid Democratic." The 17CD went blue in the last three presidential elections. And Hare's incumbency gives him a fundraising advantage.
Nevertheless, this is exactly the sort of seat that could flip if a powerful anti-incumbent wave gains speed and washes the Democrats out of Congress. And Schilling has a great personal story. He and his wife of 24 years have a Duggar-like 10 children, ranging in age from 23-years- to 1-month-old. He owns a popular Italian restaurant, Saint Giuseppe's Heavenly Pizza in Moline. (Try the Jalapeno Garden Pizza.) Illinois Republican star Aaron Schock will campaign for him in the coming months. Schilling's a fresh face in a time of popular ferment. And Rep. Hare is in his sights. "This guy got a free pass last time," Schilling says. Not in 2010.