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Running for the 10th: A look at the candidates fighting to lead Mark Kirk's old congressional district

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The Sun-Times is taking a closer look at top congressional races in the Chicago area before the Nov. 6 election. Here's our overview of the 10th congressional race.

By Natasha Korecki
Political Reporter/@natashakorecki

It isn't too tough to get U.S. Rep. Bob Dold going.

Just ask the 10th Congressional District Republican representing the North Shore whether he's affiliated with the Tea Party, as his opponent, Brad Schneider, a Democrat, has repeatedly said in mailings throughout the district.

Dold walks intently across the length of his Highland Park campaign office, stretching out a printed voting analysis of Congress members published by the Washington Post. He points to his name, which, in a long list of names, is toward the bottom of the rankings. The percentage of times he voted with Republicans on key votes: 82 percent. That's compared with other members who notched in the 90s and even 100 percent.

What it proves, the Kenilworth congressman says, is that he's more than willing to break with the party when necessary.

Schneider is "just misinformed or he's just trying to mislead the voters. Either is unacceptable," Dold said. "I would say that you can take it from me or you can take it from independent analysis: I'm one of the most independent members of not just the freshman class but of the party." Schneider's campaign counters that Dold has voted with the Tea Party on some key votes. Schneider is just as easily riled. His sensitive topic? His work background.

The Dold camp questions why Schneider campaigns as a savior to small business when recent disclosures from his Cadence Consulting company shows he has made no income.

"My opponent has said he's a business person. What's his business? Zero revenue. Zero employees. Zero clients," Dold said.

Schneider bristles at the question, saying he may have not shown revenues in the last couple of years, but that's not unusual. He says his opponent doesn't understand what it is to be an entrepreneur.

"My focus was looking to find opportunities for investment and spending time to cultivate the deals to look at. ... A great deal of my time was spent on that. While looking for businesses to invest in ... they're not generating revenues," he said. "I was able to go off on my own to make a decision to put my energies to look for a business to buy. I didn't need to have income for that time."

Dold and Schneider are in one of the most hotly contested congressional races in the state. A national watchdog group recently ranked the 10th Congressional District as one of the top 10 most expensive in the country. According to disclosures, Dold has raised $2.8 million and Schneider has raised $1.6 million.

Voters have seen a barrage of TV ads and mailings.

They will face off in an Oct. 14 debate at Lake Forest High School.

Sensitivities are high as they duke it out over the next several weeks. On the one hand, the 10th district has more than 30 years of Republican representation. On the other, Dold is now facing a new, more Democrat-leaning district in his first attempt at re-election.

After a congressional remap controlled by Democrats, Dold's new district contains about 60 percent of the old areas. However, that is a relatively high percentage compared with other remapped districts.

"The 10th District has had thoughtful, independent leadership for at least the last 32 years," he said, adding that he has won 18 nonpartisan endorsements from local leaders in the new portion of the district.

The district has long demonstrated that it will back strong, pro-Israel candidates -- something with which both Dold and Schneider say they identify.

The contentiousness is likely to ratchet up as the race inches closer to the Nov. 6 election.

Dold last week challenged Schneider to release his tax returns as the Republican made his available to the media. Schneider declined, saying the public could get all they needed from his congressional disclosures. Those disclosures, however, do not show the tax rate Schneider paid, nor do they detail his wife's earnings. Schneider's wife works for Mesirow Financial. Schneider said he has an MBA and a 25-year background in business.

Dold, who owned a longtime family-run pest-control businesses, disclosed combined income topping $210,000 in 2010 and $246,000 in 2011. That included Dold's income from his business and his wife's income as an IRS attorney. Dold remains president of Rose Pest Solutions. The family paid an effective tax rate ranging from 19 percent to 24 percent on adjusted gross income that ranged from $208,000 in 2010 to $246,000 in 2011. Schneider's campaign said his tax preparer is still completing 2011's documents but say his tax rate is at around 20 percent -- though the candidate would not release supporting papers on that.

Both candidates say they support the extension of Route 53 to help relieve congestion and build infrastructure in Lake County -- as long as it is done in an environmentally sensitive way.

Schneider points to his endorsements -- including from the Sierra Club, the Human Rights Campaign and NARAL Pro-Choice America. He says snagging some nods previously given to former seat holder Mark Kirk shows there's a shift happening in the district. The Illinois Federation of Teachers has also endorsed Schneider.

About his endorsements from the Illinois Education Association and the National Education Association, Dold says: "You think we'd get that if I were a Tea Party candidate?"

While it has launched a TV ad and campaign material casting Dold as a Tea Party sympathizer, Schneider's camp says it isn't calling Dold a Tea Partier but one who votes with the Tea Party on key votes. That includes voting to repeal President Barack Obama's health-care overhaul. However, Dold, among the few Republicans who uses the term Affordable Care Act rather than "Obamacare," said he would like to see more compromise in the health plan.

For instance he supports not banning people from getting coverage if they have pre-existing conditions and he thinks it "makes sense" to keep children on their parents' health insurance plans until they're 26.

A voting analysis by Congressional Quarterly showed that in 2011, Dold voted in support of President Obama more than any other Republican in the House.

Asked how he would show independence from his party, Schneider said he would take hard votes, if necessary.

"We need to make sure as we implement Obamacare, that we take into account small businesses," Schneider said.

Copyright © 2012 -- Sun-Times Media, LLC

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