Tea party rookie beats veteran GOP congressman

Rep. Adam Kinzinger (AP Photo)

A rookie Congressman with Tea Party support beat a veteran Republican twice his age on Tuesday in a primary contest between incumbents forced by Democratic gerrymandering of the electoral map designed to gain congressional seats in November.

Freshman Republican Adam Kinzinger, 34, declared victory over 20-year Representative Don Manzullo, who turns 68 this month, in the second of 11 primary contests nationwide pitting incumbents against each other.

“It’s time for a new generation of leadership in Washington, D.C.,” Kinzinger said in his victory speech.

Kinzinger survived even though he disappointed some of his Tea Party base by voting for a compromise deal offered by U.S. House Speaker John Boehner to raise the U.S. debt ceiling last year. Kinzinger reversed his opposition because he said there would have been economic chaos if the U.S. had defaulted on its debt.

Illinois Democrats redrew the state’s congressional districts in an attempt to roll back Republican gains in 2010, when five rookie Republican congressman, including Kinzinger, were elected. The state lost one of its 19 congressional seats due to population shifts, and the two were tossed into the same district.

“They protected Democratic incumbents, and they created mischief for Republicans. It has the potential to swing the congressional delegation,” said Kent Redfield, a political scientist at the University of Illinois at Springfield.

The first of the incumbent-versus-incumbent primaries in Ohio earlier this month resulted in Cleveland liberal Dennis Kucinich losing to Marcy Kaptur, the longest-serving woman in Congress.

To retake a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, Democrats need to gain 25 Republican-held seats, a tall order in any election and especially this year because Republicans controlled the redrawing of maps after the 2010 U.S. Census in more states than Democrats.

Most of the attention was on Illinois’ Republican presidential primary, where former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney beat his three main rivals and reclaimed front-runner status in what has been a volatile contest.

Illinois is President Barack Obama’s home state, he won the state handily in 2008, and is expected to do so again in 2012. But Republicans have made inroads including Republican Mark Kirk’s election to Obama’s former U.S. Senate seat. Democrats raised the state income tax last year and Illinois has billions of dollars in overdue bills.

In the Democratic primary, nine-term U.S. Representative Jesse Jackson, Jr., the namesake son of the Chicago-based civil rights leader, won easily in what he said was his toughest race since he was first elected in 1995.

“I’ve been elected to Congress 10 times now, and this victory may be the most meaningful of all,” said Jackson in declaring victory.

He was challenged by former U.S. Representative Debbie Halvorson, who argued Jackson was distracted by two scandals, one involving a fund-raiser who offered disgraced former Governor Rod Blagojevich millions of dollars to name Jackson to the U.S. Senate seat left vacant by Obama.

Jackson also admitted to an extramarital affair with a Washington cocktail hostess.

Obama, whose adopted hometown is Chicago, endorsed Jackson and the candidate’s posters pictured them side by side.

Copyright 2012 Thomson Reuters

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