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Sweet Column: 8th Illinois Congressional race wrap. Salvi, McSweeney showdown.


Frontrunners Kathy Salvi and David McSweeney turn up the heat on each other in the 8th congressional district GOP primary contest. The winner takes on Rep. Melissa Bean (D-Ill.)

On Sunday, Salvi knocked on doors in Barrington Township while McSweeney worked the ground around Lake Zurich.

GOP House race turns 'nuclear negative'

March 20, 2006


GOP House hopefuls Kathy Salvi and David McSweeney are the front-runners in Tuesday's primary battle to take on Democratic Rep. Melissa Bean. They are fighting for conservative votes in expensive Chicago TV spots where the non-federal issue of property taxes suddenly came into play in the closing days of the campaign.

"It's nuclear negative," said McSweeney on Sunday, forced to change his end-game strategy by Salvi's last minute television and direct mail blitz attacking his tenure as a Palatine Township trustee.

The six-way Republican battle in the 8th Congressional District sprawled over Lake, McHenry and a portion of Cook counties has narrowed to two wealthy, conservative rivals in a race that has veered sharply to the right.

House Democratic and Republican campaign operations in Washington consider the Bean seat one of the most competitive in the country. The November race will take on national significance since it could be one of a handful of districts determining which party controls the House.

National party leaders such as House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) have stayed out of the primary, since it has not been obvious which front-runner could better tackle Bean, who, in an upset, defeated ex-Rep. Phil Crane in 2004.

More than $1 mil. of their cash

Salvi, from Mundelein, is a personal injury attorney, and McSweeney, who lives in Barrington Hills, is an investment banker who left his job to run full time.

Salvi has put $1.237 million of her own money in her campaign, and McSweeney has poured $1.95 million of his own funds toward his bid -- including $100,000 added on Friday.

State Rep. Robert Churchill (R-Lake Villa), a potential spoiler because he will likely take votes from McSweeney, has taunted the front-runners as "bored millionaires." McSweeney hit Churchill in the past few days in an attempt to keep down his vote.

Salvi stunned the McSweeney camp last week when she put on very costly television spots on Chicago stations -- and sent out direct mail pieces stating McSweeney backed hiking property taxes while a Palatine Township trustee.

McSweeney, who planned an upbeat closing media blitz, was forced to retool and put rebuttal ads on the air. In a race for conservative votes, nothing could be worse than to be accused of supporting higher taxes.

Salvi's broadcast ad and print pieces, and McSweeney's response, deal with Palatine Township tax rates during the time McSweeney was a trustee, between August 1995 and October 2000.

"Don't let the fox guard the chicken house," headlined a Salvi piece that just landed in district mailboxes.

What's the merit to the headline?

Salvi overstated the case.

Gender a big factor?

To help sort this out, I'm going to use whole numbers of the Palatine Township town fund levy and not the tax rate, which takes into account the equalized assessed valuation of area real estate. Township trustees vote on a tax levy, not a tax rate. Township trustees do not assess real estate for taxation purposes.

In 1995, the levy for the Palatine Township town fund was $1.38 million. In 1996, when McSweeney first voted, the levy was $1.421 million. In 1997, the levy was $1.464 million. In 1998, the levy was $1.116 million. In 1999, the levy was $1.106 million. In 2000, the levy was $1.050 million.

In all, looking at the overall trend, there is not enough evidence to portray McSweeney as a conservative heretic.

"A record is fair game," Salvi said Sunday. "He's called me a liberal Democrat. That's deadly."

McSweeney, for his part, has been portraying Salvi as a liberal -- a horrible label to attach to someone searching for rock-ribbed conservative votes. McSweeney does hurl "personal injury attorney" before Salvi's name.

The personal injury bar is allied with Democrats. Republican activists, from President Bush on down, blame trial lawyers for many problems facing society.

Salvi and McSweeney do have differences over caps on legal damages, and McSweeney supports more limits than Salvi.

But gender could be more of a determining factor Tuesday than any of the molehills Salvi and McSweeney are turning into political mountains.

Both are blue chip conservatives.

Turnout may be helped by the GOP gubernatorial primary, and Judy Baar Topinka, the only female in that contest, is expected to do well in Chicago's suburbs -- potentially drawing women to the ballot box who may not otherwise vote. Salvi's rivals are all men.

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How could you leave out the first ads McSweeney ran?
The one with his "Plastic Pat" wife saying what a nice man he is. He loves his children, blah, blah, blah. It ran for about a week.
Oh, that's a great way to choose a rep in Congress.
BTW, I don't even live in that district, plus I'm a Dem.
I was just flabbergasted at such a stupid ad in this day & age.
With one of these 2 fools running against her, Bean has a clear shot to re-election.

these two are nutbag, extremist idealogues....i don't think those suburban soccer mom's are going to go for the radical right's bean reelected easy...

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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