Illinois today kicks off what will be a long and fascinating primary season. Voters braved snow flurries to head to the polls this morning as balloting began for a number of local and statewide races, including contests for the U.S. Senate and governor’s mansion. The names Obama and Blagojevich may not be on the ticket but there are still some pretty dramatic races to watch today and at least one has a relatively famous name.
1) IL-14. This is former House Speaker Denny Hastert’s old seat and voters in this northern Illinois district will recognize Hastert’s name on the ballot. No, Denny isn’t making a comeback; his son Ethan Hastert is running against his father’s ghosts (and seemingly those of the entire Bush Administration) in the hopes of winning the seat once held by Joseph Cannon (the second-longest serving speaker after Hastert – something must be in the water there). Ethan is going up against State Sen. Randy Hultgren, who has attempted to go to Hastert’s hard right, for the honor of challenging incumbent Bill Foster, a Democrat who won the seat with 52.5% of the vote in 2008. The district has seen some pretty wide political swings of late, electing George W. Bush to a second term with 55% of the vote in 2004 but voting for President Obama in 2008, also with 55% of the vote.
2) Speaking of GOP primaries, the race for the Republican nomination to vie for Obama’s old Senate seat, being vacated by former Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s appointee Roland Burris, will be intently watched. Moderate Rep. Mark Kirk is taking on Tea Party darling Pat Hughes. Though Hughes has forced Kirk to the right on many issues – and to go begging for Sarah Palin’s endorsement – the ideological scuffles haven’t seemed to have had an effect on primary goers. Kirk looks favored to win, though a fratricidal Hughes upset is a storyline Dems would love.
3) While we’re on the subject of Blago, the Democratic primary for his former governor’s seat is neck-in-neck. Pat Quinn, the lieutenant governor who took over in the wake of Blago’s impeachment, is struggling to wrest the nomination from State Comproller Dan Hynes. Both are powerful and long-serving figures in Illinois Democratic circles and neither have quite succeeded in selling themselves as change Lincoln-Staters can believe in after the Blago disappointment. Blago, by the way, goes on trial this summer; a sure-to-be-circus that will likely taint the general election candidacy of whomever ends up being the Democratic nominee. On the Republican front six candidates – including Andy McKenna, a former Illinois GOP chairman; former Attorney General Jim Ryan; and two state senators – will duke it out for the GOP nomination. Aside from Blago, the biggest issue will be the state’s dismal deficit — $13 billion by some estimates.