A pleasant political pal gave me a call last evening to inquire if I’d heard anything about the 14th Congressional District race numbers. That contest pits incumbent Randy Hultgren against semi-perennial Democratic challenger Dennis Anderson.
The caller also noted the lack of local Hultgren sightings and went on to pose the question that became the title of this piece. Apparently Randy is either a wee bit overconfident or he’s far too busy:
- Denying climate change and the funds to fight it despite calling out anti-science conservatives for hurting the economy.
- Denying any additional money or benefits for veterans
- Denying student loan restructuring while consistently voting for corporate welfare
- Supporting Hobby Lobby
- Calling for illegal immigrant children to be immediately deported despite the fact that the law doesn’t allow for it
I suppose that is quite the strenuous schedule.
Meanwhile, Mr. Anderson is generally getting his butt out there and scheduling town halls all over the district.
But alas, though our Democratic challenger has always evinced a strong work ethic, given the vast GOP nature of the 14th, it will take a Herculean effort – and some serious luck – to pull it off.
Bill Foster managed to do it, but that was manifestly due to those lengthy 2008 Obama coattails, a general GOP aversion to anyone named Hastert or Oberweis, and the fact that he was a numbers guy in a race where the numbers really mattered.
As far as this round goes, it’s not a presidential cycle, Hultgren may not be very popular, but he isn’t despised, and very few candidates possess Foster’s arithmetic acumen.
That said, if the Democratic Bill Foster, who had his personality completely removed at a very young age, could win it once, that means the 14th ain’t impregnable. But it’s going to take a lot more than hard work to coerce that fickle lightning into striking in the same place twice.
So here’s what Anderson will have to do to prevail.
1. Emulate Foster’s forays into GOP strongholds.
This is the key because this is what put him over the top. Foster understood that local Republicans weren’t happy with Denny Hastert for quitting early and they certainly weren’t ready to embrace Jim Oberweis. So he simply walked into all sorts of Township meetings and GOP gathering places and asked for their vote.
It’s not exactly the same scenario, but far too many folks forget that the Tea Party is not the Republican Party. Please don’t mistake volume for votes! There are a ton of moderate Republicans looking for some sort of reasonable alternative to the current Congressional quagmire.
The problem is, unlike their conservative cousins, when those folks get disgusted they don’t vote. So Anderson has to give them a reason to go the polls.
Holding town hall meetings is nice, but you typically end up preaching to the choir. All I can tell you is, when “Republicans for Foster” signs started popping up all over Geneva, I knew the election was over.
2. Become a numbers guy.
You don’t have to be a Bill Foster or Nate Silver to effectively use mathematics. In 2012, with his image battered by ineptitude and a relentless GOP attack, Barack Obama still managed to carry 7 out of 21 Geneva precincts, 10 out of Batavia’s 21, and 8 of 24 in St. Charles. And another third of them – in the heart of 14th District Republicanism – were less than 50 votes apart.
The President actually took the 14th back in 2008.
So what the Anderson campaign needs to do is sit down and do what I just did district wide; figure out where the votes are and exactly how many they need to get; and then go after those folks with a laser like focus.
Again, the shotgun approach simply will not work for any Democratic candidate because that degenerate into a war of attrition in which the greater GOP constituency will eventually play out. With campaign cash and time always at a premium, you have to pick the battles you can win to win.
3. Present a reasonable alternative.
I know it’s hard to believe in these hyper-partisan times, but most voters are actually independents. And while Hultgren hasn’t crossed the “I’m not the other guy is good enough to win” line, his generic Tea Party stands do not reflect the hearts and minds of the vast majority of voters.
Most of us want the government to tackle climate change, to take care of our veterans, to implement reasonable immigration reform, to make infrastructure improvements, to end corporate welfare, to not shut itself down, to get us out of ridiculous wars, and to work together for the better of the country as a whole.
So make it clear that’s what you stand for. Make it a race between two individuals and not two political parties. Congressman Hultgren has provided any reasonable challenger with plenty of ammunition to at least make him sweat.
The incumbent is not invulnerable. He just lost Deputy Chief of Staff Sean McCarthy to the Rauner campaign and, who knows? If Anderson continues to work smart and Hultgren continues to be scarcer than a Brazilian semifinal World Cup goal, you never know what might happen.