This past spring, a conservative blogger asked Democratic congressman Phil Hare at a townhall meeting in Quincy, Illinois about the constitutionality of the controversial health care legislation. “I don’t worry about the Constitution on this, to be honest,” Hare said.
This was the point that the race to represent Illinois’s 17th Congressional District in Washington began to get national attention. Almost immediately, Hare’s comments went viral on YouTube, where nearly half-a-million viewers witnessed Hare’s blatant disregard for the legal framework of this nation. But Hare’s out of touch comments didn’t stop there: On C-SPAN, the two-term congressman said that he would be spending time “trying to debunk the myth that this country’s in debt and we just can’t spend.”
For Hare’s opponent, Republican candidate Bobby Schilling, these slip-ups have provided an opening.
Schilling’s a small town entrepreneur in Moline and attended the same high school and college as Hare.
And while not long ago the 17th Congressional District was still considered a long shot, that’s all changed. A recent poll released by the Hill shows Schilling with as much as a seven-point lead; Real Clear Politics has upgraded this race to “Lean GOP.”
“You couldn’t get the momentum any more perfect than it is,” Schilling told THE WEEKLY STANDARD earlier this week. The nationwide momentum for a low-tax, low-spending conservative like Schilling is undeniable.
Just as it is in most congressional races, the main issue here is jobs.
“He’s the guy that is actually signing into law things that are shipping jobs overseas,” Schilling tells me, picking up on a central argument he’s been having with his Democratic opponent. Schilling insists that Hare’s votes for Obamacare and cap and trade bill, not to mention the much-derided piece of legislation that will limit what sort of light bulb will Congress will allow the American people to use in their own homes, will effectively ship jobs over sees.
Hare, to the contrary, is strongly pro-labor and continually argues for protectionist measures.
Both candidates have strong ties to the unions, though. Schilling worked for five years on the shop floor of Container Corporation of America; Hare has established support from union leadership for his policies and his party’s pro-union policies.
But for this working class district, the union connection is key. Moreover, it’s a gerrymandered district, along a narrow strip of land that snakes along the state’s western border with intermittent spikes toward urban areas like Springfield and Decatur. And it’s been Democratic for nearly three decades.
“But we’ve got crosstab polls that show the labor households themselves are at 39 [percent], and he’s at 39 [percent],” Schilling says optimistically. “So we’re splitting that vote off.” The Republican also counts among his supporters Reagan Democrats, which he says make up around a third of his support.
“For us to think that we can’t compete globally, is just ludicrous,” Schilling points out. “I give [the] example of Caterpillar, in Decatur, they’re in the district. They employ 3,000 workers at their plant that makes the big, huge mining trucks. Well, 75 to 80 percent of those trucks get shipped outside of the United States. So to think that we can’t compete is just ludicrous.”
Buoyed by a resurgent GOP and a self-destructive Democratic party in Illinois, Schilling is now a favorite to win. This long shot is now well within reach for the Republicans.