Illinois Congressional Districts Key To House Control, Democrats Say

The relatively small number of Illinois Republicans who turned out Tuesday to vote chose Mitt Romney as their GOP presidential nominee. National Democrats, however, were much more focused on the state's Democratic strongholds, which they hope can help them regain control of the House of Representatives.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee on Wednesday said five Illinois candidates qualify for the "Red to Blue" program. Committee chairman Steve Israel said these key districts, which mostly surround Chicago, can help Democrats win back the House.

“The road to the majority goes through Illinois," Israel said. "These Illinois candidates are going to be aggressively holding Republicans accountable for consistently choosing Millionaires over Medicare, oil companies’ tax breaks over middle-class tax cuts, and ideology over solutions."

One of the most important races in the nation, according to Israel, is the recently redrawn 8th Congressional District, which pits Iraq war veteran and Democrat Tammy Duckworth against Tea Party favorite Joe Walsh.

“Tammy is a heroic veteran; Walsh a Tea Party icon who’s so extreme he’s doubling down on his extremism,” Israel said, adding that Walsh is "badly out of touch" with voters.

Walsh acknowledged that he's in for a tough fight, but said the "idea of ceding this seat to the Democrats just felt wrong."

Other Illinois districts the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is targeting in its "Drive to 25" are the 10th, 11th, 13th and 17th.

In the 10th, Democrat Brad Schneider defeated 25-year-old community activist Ilya Sheyman in one of the progressive movement's biggest primary battles. Israel said he hoped the grassroots support Sheyman drummed up in the district can help Schneider, 50, defeat Republican Bob Dold in November.

Dold, who replaced Sen. Mark Kirk in the 10th, campaigned as a pro-abortion rights social moderate, but has since angered women's health groups.

“The budget that Rep. Dold voted for included just about every anti-woman measure under the sun,” Jess McIntosh, spokeswoman Emily’s List, told Patch. “It would eliminate the family planning services women rely on to keep themselves and their families healthy.”

The Democratic committee also is focusing on the 17th Congressional District, where Democrat and working mom Cheri Bustos will challenge freshman Rep. Bobby Schilling.

Redistricting has helped Democrats all over Illinois, and significantly weakened Republican Rep. Judy Biggert.

"Biggert was the biggest loser in redistricting," Israel said, adding that Democrat Bill Foster has raised more money than her every quarter so far in the campaign.

Democrats also have a quest to win the 12th Congressional District, an open seat where Democrat Brad Harriman, a teacher, will face failed lieutenant governor candidate Jason Plummer. Plummer was criticized for refusing to release his tax returns during the 2010 gubernatorial race, and was mocked by Jay Leno for his painfully awkward television appearances.

Republicans, however, aren't likely to surrender any of the races.

In a pre-primary interview with The Huffington Post, Duckworth said she was expecting the worst -- and ready for it.

"In 2006, Karl Rove flew in 60 RNC workers to work against me," Duckworth said. "There was a huge mobilization effort. This is the eye of the storm."