A longtime Republican district fell to the Democrats Saturday when a wealthy businessman and scientist snatched former House Speaker Dennis Hastert’s congressional seat in a closely watched special election.
Democrat Bill Foster won 52 percent of the vote compared to 48 percent for Republican Jim Oberweis. With 565 of 568 precincts reporting, Foster had 51,140 votes to Oberweis’ 46,270.
“Tonight our voices are echoing across the country and Washington will hear us loud and clear, it’s time for a change,” Foster told cheering supporters Saturday evening.
Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen said Foster’s win is a rebuke of the Bush administration and of the GOP’s apparent presidential nominee, John McCain, who campaigned for Oberweis.
“This is going to send a political shock wave across the country in this election year,” Van Hollen said.
Foster’s special election win means he will fill the remainder of Hastert’s term, which ends in January.
The two will square off again in November, for a new, full term. Foster won a close Democratic primary by less than 400 votes for that race, although one challenger has initiated a recount.
The 66-year-old Hastert, who lost his powerful post as speaker when Democrats took control of Congress, resigned late last year.
The race between Foster and Oberweis spawned a contentious campaign that saw both men turn to high-profile supporters to help sway voters. Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama made a TV ad praising Foster; Oberweis had fundraising help from McCain and Hastert’s backing.
“I’m really disappointed that we came up second but that’s where we’re at,” Oberweis said.
This is the latest election disappointment for Oberweis who has lost primary races twice before for the U.S. Senate and once for Illinois governor.
With Foster headed to Washington, the district will have a rookie congressmen after years of enjoying Hastert’s clout. During his 21 years in Washington, Hastert funneled millions of dollars to the district that stretches from Chicago’s far western suburbs to almost the Mississippi River.
Hastert’s is one of three open seats in Illinois this year because of GOP retirements.
Reps. Jerry Weller, who represents a district from the suburban sprawl south of Chicago to the farmland of central Illinois, and Ray LaHood of Peoria are also stepping down. Democrats’ chances to pick up one of those seats improved when the Republican nominee to replace Weller dropped out of the race.
Besides poking at each other with negative TV ads, Foster and Oberweis have clashed on issues from immigration and health care to the Iraq war.
During a recent TV appearance, Foster said he would be a “good vote in Congress to change President Bush’s policy” on Iraq. Oberweis contended the troop surge there was working, saying: “Things are getting better in Iraq.”
Oberweis also has blasted Foster for being a proponent of big government because Foster says he wants to move toward universal health care. Foster claims Oberweis’ approach — he favors tax incentives to help people buy their own insurance — only works for people who are “healthy and wealthy.”