* CQPolitics (Congressional Quarterly’s online service) claims there are “four highly competitive [congressional] races” in Illinois.
Retiring Republican Jerry Weller’s seat is listed as “No Clear Favorite,” which seems to be a growing consensus these days. Perennial targeted Democrat Melissa Bean’s district is listed as “Leans Democratic.”
CQ has Mark Kirk’s seat and retiring GOP Congressman Denny Hastert’s district as “Leans Republican.” Two districts are ranked as “Republican Favored,” including freshman Peter Roskam and retiring Congressman Ray LaHood’s seat.
* Bob Novak, who has claimed that Weller’s district leans toward a Democratic takeover, has a different take on LaHood’s seat. While Novak eventually concludes that the outlook leans towards a Republican retention, he also says it’s nearly a tossup because of a celebrity Democratic candidate…
Illinois-18: The entrance of former basketball coach Dick Versace (D) brings to a near tossup the race for the Peoria-based seat left open by the retirement Rep. Ray LaHood (R).
Versace was the head basketball coach in the 1980s at Bradley University in Peoria, the golden era of the program. He later coached the NBA’s Indiana Pacers, worked as an on-air commentator and served as the head coach of the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies. The other Democrat in the rate is retired Navy Captain Chuck Giger (D).
The Republican field features 26-year-old State Rep. Aaron Schock (R), Peoria businessman Jim McConoughey (R) and former Peoria City Councilman John Morris (R). Rep. LaHood’s son, Darin LaHood (R), took a pass and is instead challenging the incumbent state’s attorney.
Versace’s wide name recognition combines with a likely strong Democratic year in Illinois to wipe out the generic advantage a Republican has in this district, which Bush won by 5.5 points in 2004 and which has been in Republican hands for 70 years (including former Minority Leader Bob Michel). Versace has media experience, but as a political rookie, possibly facing more seasoned (although much younger) opponents, he faces many likely pitfalls. This one could swing the other way if Versace proves to be a strong candidate, but right now it is still tilting towards the Republicans. Leaning Republican Retention.