In one of the closest and most expensive congressional races of the 2014 mid-term elections, former U.S. Rep. Bob Dold is trying to reclaim his old job from U.S. Rep. Brad Schneider. With less than one week to go, no clear favorite has emerged in the race and the TV ads are becoming increasingly nasty.
Dold, a moderate Republican, succeeded U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk in the 10th Congressional District after Kirk was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2010. The district was redrawn after the 2010 census to include more Democratic voters. That helped set up Schneider’s victory over Dold in 2012.
Their prominent rematch has received national attention in recent weeks while glitzy television ads from both candidates ply local airwaves. One Dold ad has Kirk sitting by his side, while a Schneider ad features a family substituting a blue carpet for a red one.
Last week, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said he would spend $1.9 million on television ads supporting the Republican challenger.
The dollars being spent by both sides are considerable. Schneider has raised $4 million this election cycle, while Dold has accumulated $2.9 million. Bloomberg’s contribution is the race’s largest out-of-state expenditure.
Dold describes himself a “social moderate, fiscal conservative,” but Schneider’s campaign casts Dold as a member of the right wing of the Republican Party. That association is intended to cost him votes in the historically moderate district, which includes affluent North Shore suburbs such as Highland Park and Lake Forest.
Paul Lisnek, a political analyst for WGN TV, thinks Schneider’s strategy could be effective. “Dold is doing everything he can to call himself independent– that’s why he runs the ads with Kirk,” he said. “So Schneider’s attacks have to be: ‘Remember he’s a Republican; Republicans cause gridlock; Republicans are evil.’”
Negative attacks work, according to Lisnek, which is why so many candidates revert to them as Election Day approaches. “Once the message is out there, it sticks,” Lisnek said. “Nobody waits for the explanation. All they wait for is the headline.”
To be sure, Dold has issued a series of charges, too. He has repeatedly attacked Schneider for refusing to release his tax returns. He also has criticized investments his family has made in companies that outsource jobs to China—without providing any specifics.
The Schneider campaign quickly responded. “This shameless ad is a perfect example of why Americans hold Washington Republicans in such low regard,” campaign spokeswoman Staci McCabe said. “Attacking Brad’s wife and family for cheap political gain is why so many Americans are disgusted by Republican’s tactics.”
Lisnek, however, doesn’t think the attacks will work. “Dold did use that same attack last time and it didn’t work,” he said. “I think Schneider’s attack against Dold voting against Obamacare may be more powerful.”
The Dold campaign declined several requests seeking comment.
Dick Simpson, a professor of political science at University of Illinois at Chicago and former Chicago alderman, thinks the congressional race could very well be affected by Illinois’ gubernatorial election between incumbent Pat Quinn and Republican challenger Bruce Rauner.
“Dold is certainly trying to represent himself as a moderate in the Kirk form, because that’s a Republican approach that has been successful in the past in the district,” he said. “But then there is also the scenario that if a lot of voters show up to vote for Bruce Rauner, they are likely to go Republican down ballot.”
Even though most pundits believe Republicans will hold on to their House majority, the 10th Congressional race is receiving attention at the national level. Vice President Joe Biden appeared in Chicago last week to campaign for Schneider.
Biden’s visit came just after Bloomberg’s announcement and as polling showed the race neck and neck. The latest poll, conducted Oct. 27 by We Ask America, a conservative-leaning polling organization, found Dold leading Schneider 47 percent to 45 percent.
Lisnek agrees the race is too close to call. “I think it’s going to be a late night for those two,” he said.