While Senator Obama's Illinois may be the bluest of all the states on the electoral map this year, there are still some bell-weather races in the Chicago area that are neck and neck. One in particular, the 10th Congressional District on the North Shore of Chicago will be as exciting to monitor on November 4th as presidential returns in swing states like North Carolina and Ohio.
Perhaps the 10th District race, between popular incumbent Republican Mark Kirk and second-time challenger Dan Seals, will prove to be an accurate microcosm of the presidential election in the Chicago area. On the surface it's obvious: Kirk is white, a Naval Reserve officer, and his slogan is independence; Seals is black, intellectual, and his slogan is change. Digging deeper, the parallels between McCain-Kirk and Obama-Seals become even more apparent.
Kirk grew up in the tony 10th district located on the North Shore of Chicago and often harks back to a near-death experience to explain why he wants to serve his country. He's been elected to four consecutive terms and voted to authorize the Iraq War. Seals was raised in Hyde Park mostly by his single mother, teaches public policy at Northwestern and has cultivated a strong grassroots following. In his 2006 run against Kirk he had virtually no name recognition but managed to get 47% of the district's vote--a district that hasn't elected a Democrat to Congress since 1978. Kirk describes the 10th as "a district of social moderates and fiscal conservatives", but no poll has, as yet, shown definitively whether the voters of the 10th are willing to abandon their core beliefs in a windfall election year.
If Kirk wins he will no doubt have a bright future within the Republican party and likely be untouchable for the foreseeable future. If Seals wins, he will owe his victory to a combination of factors: A bolstered base, higher voter turnout, better name recognition and growing negative sentiment toward all things Republican. But most likely he will owe the win to the long coattails of Senator Obama. Even Seals himself agrees.
At rallies Seals often states, "Mark Kirk accuses me of supporting the Obama agenda. Well, you bet I do!" Riding coattails is part of the political experience. LBJ rode FDR's coattails in the unlikely victory that elected him to Congress in 1937; John McCain openly rode the Ronald Reagan bandwagon to Congress in 1982. If the 10th goes blue, Seals will join with his Democratic colleagues in Washington in January as part of a new Democratic super majority set to implement the Obama change message they have echoed throughout the country for the past year on loudspeakers, microphones, radios and televisions.