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Bailout Votes Could Hurt Congressional Candidates

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WASHINGTON - The nation's economic uncertainty is creating political uncertainty for a few Illinois politicians running for re-election.

Congressional candidates who were forced to take a position - and sometimes more than one - on the Wall Street bailout package could find themselves under fire from their challengers.

Republican Rep. Judy Biggert's opponent criticizes her for first opposing the $700 billion bailout package but later supporting a revised version.

Democratic Rep. Bill Foster, who was sent to Congress in March through a special election, backed both versions of the bailout and faces an opponent - Jim Oberweis, a Sugar Grove businessman who made a fortune as an investment manager - with the money for a last-minute advertising blitz to make an issue of the votes. Oberweis said he would have voted against either incarnation.

And Rep. Peter Roskam, a freshman Republican, opposed the measure from beginning to end. His challenger, Jill Morgenthaler (D-Des Plaines), says she would have backed the bailout, reluctantly, because something had to be done to prevent an economic catastrophe.

Biggert's challenger, former Chicago businessman Scott Harper (D-Lockport), sees the Hinsdale incumbent's vote to be an asset to his own campaign. Harper, given little chance of winning on traditionally GOP turf in Chicago's suburbs, said the five-term congresswoman has struck out in dealing with the nation's worsening economic crisis.

First, he argues, she first was ineffective as senior Republican on a key congressional panel focused on financial institutions. Second, she failed to show leadership as an opponent of the initial $700 billion bailout bill that was sought to calm Wall Street. Third, she displayed political opportunism by voting for the rescue bill loaded with pork that did become law.

Harper argues Biggert did nothing to stop the coming crisis while sitting on the House Financial Services Committee. He says he would have voted for either one of the bailout bills because quick action was needed.

"People are frustrated, really mad, confused," he said. "They really think Judy Biggert has been asleep at the switch."

Biggert counters that her record has been misrepresented.

She said she was behind hearings years ago that, though unsuccessful, sought to reform mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

On her initial vote against the $700 billion bailout, she said constituents supported her by a 2-1 margin. When she backed the second bill, many became upset upon learning it had pork, including tax breaks for Puerto Rican rum distillers. Now, she says, wherever she goes, she must explain that she fought the earmarks before voting for the bailout.