SPRINGFIELD – With control of the U.S. House potentially hanging in the balance, some Illinois congressional races have gotten ugly.
Ads are flying back and forth, accusing opponents of wanting to cut off health care for the elderly or being a crony to now-imprisoned governors. They allege that the other guy is radical, a hypocrite and even one of the meanest candidates in Illinois history.
While the candidates aren’t shy about criticizing one another, most of the attack ads are from national political organizations. That gives the candidates some distance from the worst of the mudslinging.
Things have gotten so bad that retiring Rep. Tim Johnson held a news conference to scold both men running to replace him. The Urbana Republican said the race has become “a cesspool for negativity.”
Illinois offers Democrats several strong chances to pick up seats and possibly win a majority in the House. Here’s a look at three key races and examples of the mud being slung in each:
17th District, Democrat Cheri Bustos vs. incumbent Republican Bobby Schilling
Schilling and Bustos traded some ugly accusations after a Missouri Senate candidate ignited a national firestorm with a remark about “legitimate rape.”
Bustos called her opponent “extreme” on abortion and suggested he didn’t care about women’s health. She pointed out that Schilling co-sponsored abortion-funding legislation that at one stage limited the usual rape and incest exceptions to cases of “forcible” rape and that he had gotten a $2,000 campaign contribution from the candidate who talked about “legitimate” rape, Rep. Todd Akin, R-Mo.
The Schilling campaign donated the $2,000 to charity and denounced Akin’s comments. A Schilling aide also claimed Bustos takes the “kind of sick” position of supporting late-term abortions for seventh-graders. Soon after, they called Bustos “one of the meanest congressional candidates in Illinois history.”
Each candidate accuses the other of ignoring workers’ interests and favoring policies that ship jobs overseas.
Probably the most notorious ad in the race came from the national Republican organization. It said that Bustos, when she was on the East Moline City Council, voted to spend $625,000 on improvements to the road “connecting her street to her local country club.”
Problem is, the repairs began before Bustos was ever on the city council and she simply supported the project’s second phase, along with every other member of the council. Even more surprising, given the ad’s implications, is that Bustos has never belonged to the country club.
12th District, Democrat Bill Enyart vs. Republican Jason Plummer
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has run ads accusing Plummer of wanting to end Medicare, the health insurance program for the elderly. The DCCC calls him an “unexplained millionaire” whose only full-time job has been with his father’s company.
In June, Plummer did praise a budget proposal from Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan that would make significant changes to Medicare, but it’s not clear whether he was talking about the original proposal or a new version with less dramatic changes.
Either way, independent fact-checking organizations say it’s incorrect to say the Ryan plan would “end” Medicare. It would, however, make huge changes that opponents say would weaken the program.
Plummer, 30, disputes the claim that his only real job has been working for his father. He says he has started “multiple businesses.” The one he has talked about most frequently was a wireless Internet provider called Celerity, but the Chicago Tribune reported in 2010 that records show he was never listed as a company owner or officer.
Plummer refuses to release income tax records that might shed more light on his work experience and net worth.
For their part, Republicans repeatedly link Enyart to disgraced former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who picked the former Air Force officer to run the Illinois National Guard in 2007. They label Enyart “Blagojevich’s general.”
But it’s misleading to suggest that Enyart was some kind of Blagojevich pal who got the job through his connections. Enyart was a brigadier general with 30 years of military experience when he was named the state’s adjutant general. He was already a high-ranking National Guard leader and, according to state records, has never made a campaign donation to Blagojevich.
13th District, Democrat David Gill vs. Republican Rodney Davis
This is the race Tim Johnson found so distressing.
One Democratic ad claims Davis was “right in the middle” of the scandal that sent Gov. George Ryan to prison. It’s filled with grainy pictures of Ryan and words like “scandal” and “unethical.” It accuses him of taking nearly $1 million in taxpayer-funded salaries.
But Davis wasn’t in the middle of the scandal. He wasn’t even on the periphery.
At one time, Davis was the Christian County coordinator for a Ryan campaign, and he worked as a managerial assistant in the secretary of state’s office when Ryan ran it. The Democratic ad claims Davis was on a Ryan “clout list” of political favors, but that’s not necessarily significant. The list recorded things Ryan had done for people – who therefore, in his view, owed him a favor – whether they asked for help or not.
As for the salaries, that refers to Davis’ total pay over many years of working for state and federal government.
On the other side, the National Republican Congressional Committee produced an ad that earned a “pants on fire” rating from PolitiFact.
The ad accuses Democrat David Gill of wanting to end Medicare, a reversal of the usual pattern of Democrats accusing Republicans of targeting the program. In this case, the GOP ad points out that Gill has supported a national health care plan. In a television appearance years ago, he said, “Medicare would no longer exist.”
But as PolitiFact noted, it would no longer exist because the whole country would be covered by basically the same program. Essentially, Gill’s proposal would have given Medicare to everyone without taking it away from anyone.
— Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee videos: http://www.dccc.org/media
— National Republican Congressional Campaign videos: https://www.nrcc.org/videos