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Bailout is fresh fodder for Congressional challengers
By Joseph Ryan | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 9/30/2008 12:06 AM

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Nearly a month from the election, the historic financial industry bailout is shaking up the suburban congressional campaign trail as challengers seek any edge in their tight races.

"For her to vote 'no' strikes me as very irresponsible," fired off Democrat Scott Harper shortly after Republican U.S. Rep. Judy Biggert sided against Monday's bailout proposal.

Across the partisan divide, Republican challenger Jim Oberweis seized on the bailout as a clear line where he differs with 7-month incumbent Bill Foster.

"Had I been a member of Congress, I would have voted 'no,' " a statement from his campaign said Monday afternoon, referring to the Democrat's support of the $700 billion plan.

Incumbents across the suburbs are facing fierce battles this year and the addition of a massive financial meltdown coupled with a record taxpayer bailout is fresh fodder for challengers.

Politically, Monday's vote put incumbents between a rock and boulder.

If they voted for it, challengers could charge them with backing a taxpayer bailout of Wall Street. If they voted against it, they were open to charges of failing to help prevent economic calamity.

But every candidate is being careful to walk the tightrope of generically calling for taxpayer protections while also arguing against inaction.

In the heated 10th District race in northern Cook and southeastern Lake counties, challenger Dan Seals has been supportive of a bailout, but he came out against Monday's version. He hopes to unseat U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk of Highland Park, one of only 65 Republicans to vote for the plan.

"It was too much in favor of the Bush Administration proposal," said Seals, whose campaign wants to tie Kirk to the unpopular president.

Yet, Seals also noted, "the risks of doing nothing are too high."

Seals said he wants more protections for taxpayers and better oversight, which most Democrats in the House said were included in Monday's failed proposal.

Typically at this time in the campaign season, politicians rarely face tough votes as they try to cobble together a diverse coalition of supporters and hope to avoid controversy.

But this time, voters are paying intense attention to the bailout proposal. That will likely only increase as financial turmoil ensues following the bailout's failure.

Incumbents across the board are reporting a record influx of e-mails, calls and letters to their district offices on the subject. Many say voters are upset about a plan they see as rescuing Wall Street with middle class tax dollars.

"More than anything, I'm hearing a lot of frustration, anger," said Seals. "But I'm also hearing that we need to do something."

While Seals is going after Kirk for his support of the bailout, Democrat Jill Morgenthaler is blasting Republican Peter Roskam for supporting it.

"He is basically putting partisanship ahead of the people," said the Des Plaines challenger.

Roskam and Biggert said they opposed the measure because it didn't have enough oversight and taxpayer protections.

Certainly, there are races where both candidates share basically the same view on the bailout.

In his bid against Democrat U.S. Rep. Melissa Bean, Republican Steve Greenberg has come out in support of the bailout. Bean voted for it Monday.

"A good majority of the American public is against it because it is viewed as their tax dollars going to fat cats and high rollers, but this is one of those situations where people elected to go to Congress need to do the right thing," said Greenberg's spokesman Collin Corbett.