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As filing period ends, GOP hopefuls lining up in hopes of changing trend
Republicans make up most of the challenges in legislative, congressional primaries
By Joseph Ryan | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 11/3/2009 12:03 AM

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Even as the economy sputters and calls for tax hikes ring across the state, few apparently want to challenge incumbents in their own political party.

But Republicans, hoping for a reversal in the suburban Democratic tide, are tripping over themselves for a chance to run against a Democrat in next year's general election.

That political reality came through loud and clear as the primary tickets for both parties solidified as petition filing wrapped up Monday for local races that will contribute to the makeup of both Congress and the Illinois General Assembly.

For Congress, a North suburban U.S. House seat left open by 10th District GOP Rep. Mark Kirk, who is running for Senate, has lured perhaps the widest field of local primary contenders, 11 in all, setting up tough internal battles for both Democrats and Republicans.

Meanwhile, an unusually long ballot of six Republicans has formed in the 8th District as the contenders hope for a chance to take on U.S. Rep. Melissa Bean, a Barrington Democrat in the northwest suburban seat. Similarly, five Republicans are vying to take on U.S. Rep. Bill Foster, a freshman Democrat from Batavia, who now has former House Speaker Dennis Hastert's far West suburban 14th District seat.

As for Kirk's seat, two-time Democratic candidate Dan Seals of Wilmette is running against state Rep. Julie Hamos of Evanston, attorney Elliot Richardson of Highland Park and Milton Sumption of Lake Bluff. On the GOP side, seven candidates are battling for attention in a district held by Kirk for five terms, but often seen as leaning more Democratic in recent election cycles.

Foster is being eyed for ouster by Hastert's son, Ethan of Elburn, and state Sen. Randy Hultgren of Winfield, Mark Vargas of Elgin and Jeff Danklefsen of Geneva. Foster has his own primary challenger in James Pistorius of Aurora, an assistant admissions director at a nursing college. Bean also faces her own primary challenger, a rematch with computer consultant Jonathan Farnick of Woodstock.

Yet, three suburban congressional seats will not have contested primaries for either major party: the 13th District in southern DuPage County held by Judy Biggert of Hinsdale, the DuPage-centered 6th District held by Peter Roskam of Wheaton and the Far Northwest suburban 16th District held by Don Manzullo of Rockford.

As for primary battles over seats in the state General Assembly, of 32 Senate and House districts in the North, West and Northwest suburbs - generally considered one of the most heated political battlegrounds in the state - only eight will have primary contests, and only one of those eight has a primary on both sides of the ballot.

In all, 24 incumbents will not face primary challenges.

Of the nine contest primaries, seven are on the Republican ticket. Four incumbents face a primary challenge, including state Rep. Suzi Bassi of Palatine, state Sen. Chris Lauzen of Aurora, state Rep. Kay Hatcher of Yorkville and State Rep. Sandy Cole of Grayslake. Hatcher is facing a challenge from the head of the Kendall County Republicans as well as a local anti-tax activist.

Open seats are drawing the most attention.

Three GOP primaries have shaped up for open seats. One is in Schaumburg, where Democratic state Rep. Paul Froehlich is retiring. Anita Forte-Scott, who lost to Froehlich last year, is dueling with Ryan Higgins. Both are from Schaumburg.

The retirement of state Rep. Bob Biggins of Elmhurst has drawn a four-person GOP primary contest to the DuPage County 41st District.

In Lake County, state Rep. Kathy Ryg's midterm departure to head up Voices for Illinois Children has sparked primaries on both party tickets. Appointee Carol Sente, a Vernon Hills Democrat, faces a challenge from Buffalo Grove Village President Elliot Harstein, who wanted the appointment this summer. Republican attorney Dan Sugrue, who lost to Ryg last year, is going against newcomer businessman Mohan Manian.

Meanwhile, most of the competition in state legislative races is expected to come in the general election.

The suburbs remain a pockmarked battleground between the two major parties with Democrats making significant gains in recent years. Republicans are hoping to stop the bleeding, if not reverse the tide.

As many as a dozen races in the suburbs could catch fire in the general election, with party leaders and major donors flooding the small districts with hundreds of thousands of dollars in TV ads and mailers. Last year, more than $11 million was spent on just 10 hot legislative races in the West, North and Northwest suburbs.

Some of the challenges expected to draw attention include:

• Republican Ruth Munson filed petitions to take her Elgin-based 43rd District seat back from state Rep. Keith Farnham, a Democrat.

• Former Sen. Steve Rauschenberger is running to unseat Democratic Sen. Mike Noland. Rauschenberger gave up the seat in 2006 to run for lieutenant governor.

• Republicans are expected to push for progress in Northwest Cook County along the Jane Adams Tollway, I-90, where they have lost a number of seats in recent years.

• DuPage County may become a hotbed of activity. Local Democratic organizations have made organizing strides in the Republican bastion. That could put seats in play for the Democrats that previously haven't been viewed as winnable. Still, Republican Rep. Darlene Senger defeated a strong Democratic run last year for an open seat in Naperville.

• Republicans want to take back ground in Lake County, the site of one of their few gains in 2008 with the win of state Sen. Dan Duffy of Lake Barrington. With that in mind, the county's chairman, Suzi Schmidt, has entered the race to run against state Sen. Michael Bond of Grayslake. Bond had flirted with a 10th District House bid, but backed out.