Sunday, March 09, 2008

Foster beats Oberweis in Illinois' 14th CD, with a major assist from the Chicago Tribune and help from Obama-- and maybe Sen.Lauzen

With 100% of the precincts in, Democrat scientist Bill Foster triumphed over Republican Investment Fund entrepreneur Jim Oberweis yesterday by about five thousand votes in Illinois’ 14th Cong. District, about thirty miles due west of Chicago. [The local Chicago Fox News station mistakenly reported at 9:00pm, when AP was reporting a margin of about 4000 votes, that the margin of victory was 400 votes]. Oberweis, losing 53% to 47%, conceded the Special Election prior to last night's Fox 9:00 pm news. The turnout for the unusual Saturday election was very low, coming in at less than 24%. Giving you some perspective, this reporter has attended a football game that had more fans in the stadium than yesterday's election had voters.

National pundits will be reading all sorts of national implications into the Democratic victory. Should they? Perhaps and perhaps not. This has been a strong Republican district, for decades, carried by President Bush with a 55% margin in 2004 and by then Speaker Hastert with 60% in the Democrat Tsunami of 2006.

The District has been trending Democrat in the last few years and now with a shaky economy following a difficult war and an unpopular President, the national Republican Party was worried and spent lavishly on the race, as did the National Democrats. So did both of the wealthy candidates. Reliable sources have said that both the Oberweis campaign and the Foster campaign expected a “dead heat,” based on polling data going into the last few days. So, what did the trick for physicist and first time candidate Bill Foster of Geneva yesterday?

The Foster win was a big time win for the Chicago Tribune and to a lesser extent for Barack Obama, and perhaps for the proposition that bitter primaries can hurt political parties and their candidates badly. Obama performed in another of one of his famous non-substantive ads, endorsing Foster in the last few days, not unlike what he did to carry the inexperienced 29 year old whiz kid, Democrat Alexi Giannoulias, over the finish line in the State Treasurer’s primary and then general election race in 2006. In the last few days of this campaign, Obama’s ad urged voters to support Foster because he had started a business, was a scientist and supported change (How’s that for Chicago Tribune transparency and responsibility, see below). But, it doesn’t seem as if the Obama ad, while significant, was the transformative factor in the election.

A long time Republican strategist who closely watched the 14th CD race said, “I think the Senator Chris Lauzen non-endorsement had more of an impact than Team Oberweis thought it would.” Senator Lauzen [R-Aurora] lost to Jim Oberweis [56% to 44%] in an extremely bitter primary and reportedly sought a public apology from Oberweis for some of his primary campaign actions and statements—an apology Lauzen never received. Knowledgeable sources close to the race think that, whether Lauzen changes his mind or whether his supporters have their wounds heal, the eight months until the next Foster-Oberweis face-off will be very helpful to the "coming together process," for Republicans and to the chances that Oberweis can take back the seat.

Of course, if Obama is on the Democratic Presidential ticket in the fall, that could swamp the impact of whatever Senator Lauzen and his supporters choose to do.

But, for yesterday‘s election, it very well could have been the historically Republican and staunchly conservative of yesteryear Chicago Tribune that ironically carried the day for Democrat Bill Foster. The Chicago Tribune endorsed Foster on Tuesday of this week and bashed Oberweis, for good measure, on Thursday, asserting that “Oberweis has shown in four campaigns that he plays fast and loose with the Truth.” When the Chicago Tribune endorses a Democrat in the seat that was held, for twenty-one years, by the longest serving Republican House Speaker-- J. Dennis Hastert, and Speaker Hastert endorses the Republican candidate for that seat, both in the Primary and the General Election, readers, if not spilling their coffee, at least take note.

In its endorsement, The Tribune stated, “This page is closer to Oberweis than Foster on several economic and foreign policy issues.” But that was not just an understatement; it was an intellectually dishonest statement. Perhaps, it is best characterized as the Tribune playing fast and loose with the truth. Maybe someday they will tell us what they were really thinking.

If you watch the Tribune endorsement session and you assume that Bruce Dold, the long time Chicago Tribune Editorial Page Editor, speaks in large part for what the Tribune stands for, you would be hard pressed to find many, if any, of the substantive views of Foster with which the Tribune agrees. Certainly not on taxes, trade, Iraq, Immigration, social security, economics, whatever. And, and on each of those issues, except for immigration, Oberweis and the Tribune appear to be very much in sync.

Moreover, on immigration, an issue on which the Tribune and Oberweis have disagreed for the last five years, it would be hard to argue that Foster, based on what he said at the endorsement session, was very close to the Tribune position. Foster said he would not have supported McCain-Kennedy-Bush on comprehensive immigration because the bill had too much amnesty in it. When you watch that statement of Foster at the endorsement session, you have the impression that Dold is going to start coughing up blood any minute. This reporter wonders when the Foster campaign will explain that immigration position to its Hispanic supporters. Yet more transparency for the Tribune to investigate.

So, you have to wonder what the Tribune was up to in its endorsement of Foster. Bill Foster could be a fine candidate from a Democratic perspective. And, perhaps even from the perspective of some independents and Republicans. But for Bruce Dold and the Chicago Tribune, that’s quite a stretch. Maybe it was Pat Widder, who seemed to co-lead, with Dold, or perhaps lead the 14th CD editorial board endorsement session. Maybe it was James Kimberly, a Chicago Tribune reporter who sat in and asked a question or two in the almost 75 minute session. Maybe it was Carlos Hernandez-Gomez, a CLTV political reporter [CLTV is owned by the Chicago Tribune] who sat in on the session but did not seem to say anything. Perhaps discretion was the better part of valor at that peculiar get together.

Somehow, this reporter doesn’t think it was Dold, Hernandez Gomez, Kimberly or even Widder who made this endorsement decision. But maybe the Chicago Tribune, being into transparency and responsibility, will want to tell its gentle readers who is pulling the strings of the Editorial Page Editor. Maybe someone who wanted to fulfill her own "mission statement."

Also, like Team Oberweis, Team Foster is no alter boy. It spliced and diced with the best of them, taking Oberweis pieces out of context, massaging his statements on social security and the war, Oberweis Dairy's actions re hiring, and Oberweis' agreements, or lack thereof, with President Bush. Yet, the Tribune says, “we’ll trust Foster when he says he would emphasize transparency, responsibility and bipartisanship in government.” Unfortunately, it did not choose to document the reasons for its trust.

As Reagan said, “Trust, but verify.” The Tribune might want to start verifying, not just as to the above Oberweis issue statements twisted by Team Foster, but by asking its ace reporter covering the 14th CD to tabulate how many entities requested joint appearances and debates by the two candidates, especially those in which the candidates might encounter tough, but fair, questioning on TV, and how many were accepted by Oberweis and by the camera shy Foster, respectively. And, then the Tribune reporter might want to compare those data with Foster’s statement, in response to a statement by a local TV anchor/reporter, that “Foster couldn’t imagine where anybody got the idea,” that Foster didn’t want to appear on TV with his opponent, Jim Oberweis.

After all, if its transparency and responsibility that is important, shouldn’t the candidates be willing to see their views tested and challenged, by each other, journalists and citizens. Admittedly, time was short for this general election campaign, but ample evidence suggests Foster was no more interested in engaging Oberweis on the issues than he was his Democratic Primary opponents. On the other hand, the Tribune got its debate—and made little use of it in determining its endorsement-- so why should it care if Oberweis and Foster were transparent elsewhere. Why, indeed.

Of most importance for the Tribune to take note is that Foster and Oberweis have eight months until they both face another vote to see who will represent the 14th CD in a full congressional term. That’s a lot of time for the candidates, journalists and civic leaders to line up multiple forums and venues in which both face tough questioning.

In 2000, with an open seat in the 10th CD at stake, then Democratic State Rep. Lauren Beth Gash (Highland Park) and her Republican opponent, Mark Steven Kirk (now the 8th year incumbent from Highland Park) managed to schedule thirty-three joint forums. This reporter looks forward to seeing how many joint forums the Chicago Tribune editorializes for in order to achieve transparency and responsibility in the 14th CD. Not just for Oberweis. Not just for Foster. But, for the Chicago Tribune. It’s only fair.
Jeff Berkowitz, Show Host/Producer of "Public Affairs," and Executive Legal Recruiter doing legal search,
can be reached at You may watch "Public Affairs," shows with Presidential Candidates Obama and McCain-- and many other pols, as well as this week's ten suburb edition of Public Affairs with State Rep. Hamos, this week's 24 suburb and City of Chicago edition of Public Affairs with U. S. Senate Candidate Dr. Sauerberg, our show with Sen. Rauschenberger and our show with Crain's political columnist Greg Hinz at
Recently posted shows on the Public Affairs Youtube page include, among others, our show with former Sen. Rauschenberger, assessing Barack Obama, this week's show in the Cities of Chicago and Aurora with Republican U.S. Senate nominee Dr. Steve Sauerberg, discussing his opponent--Senator Durbin-- and domestic, cultural and foreign policy issues, this week's show on the North Shore featuring State Rep. Julie Hamos (D-Evanston,IL), discussing Barack Obama, as well as various Illinois Budget issues (spending, mass transit, capital budget, education, gaming and taxes) and possible 2010 Illinois gubernatorial candidates and 2010 U. S. Senate candidates (assuming Obama moves up to President in 2008) , a discussion with State's Attorney for Cook County Republican nominee Tony Peraica; and Anita Alvarez, Chief Deputy to current State's Attorney for Cook County Dick Devine and now the Democratic nominee for State's Attorney of Cook County.