Congressional candidate Ethan Hastert
U.S. Rep. Bill Foster
U.S. Rep. Melissa Bean
U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk
National Republicans see hope for a resurgence in President Barack Obama's home state -- and they're coming here this week to help move it along.
With a cloud hanging over Democrats after the arrest of Gov. Rod Blagojevich and voter angst over the economy and proposed tax hikes, GOP bigwigs on Capitol Hill are looking to win over several suburban districts in Illinois.
In fact, hopes are now so high at the national level, Republicans are even looking to find a serious contender against U.S. Rep. Melissa Bean, a Barrington Democrat who appeared to solidify her standing in the Northwest suburban 8th District years ago.
"It would be a major upset for us to miss this opportunity," says U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, recruitment chair for the National Republican Congressional Committee.
McCarthy and other top Republicans are set to visit the Chicago suburbs this week to drum up and vet potential congressional candidates.
One seat is open, in the North suburban 10th District, with U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk making a bid for Senate. While the Democratic field in the primary is already packed, the Republican field has yet to form with state Rep. Beth Coulson of Glenview mentioned as a potential contender.
The district has traditionally voted Democrat for presidents, but it sent Kirk to Congress for nearly a decade. Democrats are clearly eyeing the seat for a pickup, but McCarthy says the NRCC isn't giving up without a fight -- if the right candidate emerges.
Meanwhile, he is also meeting with potential challengers to Bean, who unseated Republican stalwart Phil Crane in a 2004 upset for the 8th District. The NRCC stayed away from Bean in the last election cycle.
This time could be different, according to McCarthy -- again, if the right candidate emerges.
"We have to be on offense," he said. "The only way to win is to go on offense."
McCarthy's visit comes at the same time as the GOPAC annual national conference at a hotel near O'Hare International Airport. GOPAC is focused on training state and local officeholders. Speakers this week include former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
The GOP is clearly hopeful it can beat back at least some of the Democratic majority in the House during the upcoming midterm election. To do that, however, Republicans need to hold their ground in suburban districts across the nation and then retake seats lost in the last few elections to more moderate Democrats.
In Illinois, that means fighting back a second challenge from Scott Harper against U.S. Rep. Judy Biggert of Hinsdale while making a play for the open Kirk seat and taking on freshman Bill Foster of Batavia in the 14th District and perhaps even Bean of Barrington.
All those races will cost a lot of cash and substantial organization, which is why it all boils down to the candidate for GOP recruiter McCarthy.
The challenge to Foster seems well under way with Ethan Hastert, the son of House Speaker Dennis Hastert, making a run to retake his father's district. Ethan Hastert is able to draw from his father's connections as well as his own Washington, D.C., contacts and his last name is well known in the Far West suburban district.
However, it remains unclear if the GOP candidates running, or thinking about running, in the 8th and 10th districts would be able to draw the money and organizational support needed to win.
So far in the 8th District, candidates include John Dawson, a Barrington businessman who lost a bid for re-election to a school board in 2005, and Greg Jacobs, a retired Cook County sheriff from Mundelein with no previous political experience.
McCarthy is hoping to add some names to the list of possible contenders or nail down a solid candidate in both the 8th and 10th districts in a series of one-on-one meetings later this week.
McCarthy concedes there will be a lot of questions coming at him, too, namely whether the national Republican party will step in to help when they haven't in the past. That is particularly true in the 8th District.
The NRCC, the main party arm for congressional races, was late to the game when Bean won in 2004, invested heavily in 2006 and then was nowhere to be seen in 2008.
"You have to have people actually believe on the ground that, 'OK, this time we are serious,'" McCarthy said.
Key dates for 2010 elections:
Aug. 4: Candidates can begin circulating nominating petitions. Oct. 26: First day candidates can file petitions to get on primary ballot. Nov. 2: Last day to file petitions to get on the primary ballot.
Nov. 9: Last day to contest petitions. Many candidates are kicked off the ballot for bad signatures.
Jan. 5: Last day to register to vote outside certain facilities. Jan. 6: Grace period voting and registration begins.
Jan 11: Early voting starts.
Jan 19: Grace period voting and registration ends.
Jan 28: Early voting ends and last day for absentee voting applications to be in.
Feb. 2: Illinois primary election
Source: Illinois State Board of Elections