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Downballot Races (Nearly) Set in Illinois

Illinois voters didn't just decide to award their state's delegates to Sens. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) Tuesday. They also went to the polls to pick nominees in several key congressional races.

The most closely watched contest was in the 14th district, the seat west of Chicago made vacant by the November resignation of ex-Speaker Dennis Hastert (R). Voters on Tuesday chose nominees for two contests -- the March 8 special election to finish the remainder of his term as well as the November general election.

The GOP side was especially hard-fought, with dairy magnate Jim Oberweis (Capitol Briefing loves writing about "magnates" of any kind) beating state Sen. Chris Lauzen in both primaries. The win was particularly sweet for Hastert, who endorsed Oberweis to succeed him and has long had a strained relationship with Lauzen.

The Democratic side of the ledger is less clear. Wealthy scientist Bill Foster definitely won the right to face Oberweis in the March special, but the contest for the general election was extremely close. Foster led Navy veteran John Laesch by only a few hundred votes in that contest as of this morning, and Laesch refused to concede.

Though Foster is wealthy and Illinois has been trending toward Democrats in recent years, the 14th district gave President Bush 56 percent of the vote in 2004 and is favored -- though not guaranteed -- to remain in the GOP column.

Voters also selected nominees for the races to replace retiring GOP Reps. Ray LaHood and Jerry Weller. LaHood's seat is expected to stay in GOP hands, but Weller's should be up for grabs in November.

In the suburban Chicago 3rd district, Rep. Dan Lipinski easily repelled a well-publicized primary challenge from the more liberal Mark Pera. And north of the Windy City, business consultant Dan Seals handily beat former Clinton administration aide Jay Footlik for the Democratic nod to take on Rep. Mark Kirk (R) in the 10th district.

This district has never been easy for the GOP - Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) won it in 2004, 53-47 - but Kirk has remained popular here by steering a moderate course while also racking up impressive fundraising totals. The seat will definitely be in play in November, especially if Obama is at the top of the Democratic ticket.

By Ben Pershing  |  February 6, 2008; 2:04 PM ET
Categories:  2008 Campaign  
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