Democrats won congressional campaigns in 2006 and 2008 campaigning as moderates. The party fielded candidates with attractive personal stories who did not stray far from the center. One of those candidates was former Mary Kay cosmetics saleswoman Debbie Halvorson, a freshman elected in 2008 in Illinois's Eleventh Congressional District.
This was no ordinary victory. Illinois 11 is a Republican place. Bush won it in 2000 and 2004. Halvorson's predecessor, Republican Jerry Weller, held the seat since 1994 before retiring in 2008. But the GOP trend did not hold in a Democratic year, with Illinois's own Barack Obama at the top of the ticket. Obama defeated McCain 53 percent to 45 percent. Halvorson defeated her Republican opponent, businessman Marty Ozinga, 58 percent to 34 percent.
How'd she do it? Part of her strategy was negative attacks on Ozinga. The other part was stressing her moderate credentials. On the trail, Halvorson would bring up her admiration for Blue Dog Democrats and fiscal responsibility. Once in Washington, though, Halvorson did not join the Blue Dogs. And her moderate image vanished when she signed on to the Obama-Pelosi-Reid agenda.
In November, Halvorson will face Adam Kinzinger, a 32-year-old captain in the Air National Guard. Kinzinger is someone to watch as the story of the 2010 midterms unfolds. He's one of many young Global War on Terror veterans looking to enter national politics, and he's having some success. A couple weeks back, Kinzinger won the GOP primary with 64 percent of the vote. He's enrolled in Rep. Kevin McCarthy's Young Guns House recruitment program. His rise coincides with the fall of Obama's New Foundation. On the stump, Kinzinger emphasizes Halvorson's lock-step support of Nancy Pelosi, from the stimulus, to cap-and-trade, to health care.
This is a program Kinzinger is happy to attack and Halvorson is reluctant to defend. Halvorson held no town halls during the 2009 August recess to openly (and combatively) discuss health care reform. Kinzinger held eight -- not bad for a guy who had just returned from Iraq in May. Kinzinger says Halvorson and the Democrats have failed to promote economic recovery and are interested in expanding government beyond its capacities. Halvorson has said that "sometimes Democratic ideas are really good and I'm going to vote for them." Tell that to the voters.
The Cook Report says the race is "Likely Democratic," but that may change as Obama continues to flounder and as Kinzinger's fundraising begins to equal Halvorson's. If for no other reason, the race is worth keeping an eye on since it pits an RC-26 pilot against the Pink Cadillac set.
What's more, the race reveals quite a bit about America's changing political landscape. In 2006 and 2008, Independents in Republican-leaning districts bet that moderate Democrats would remain moderate under the leadership of the national party in D.C. It was a bet that went south. And now the voters are looking to recoup their losses.