denny hastert's resignation announcement last night sets up a special election, who's primary most likely will be conducted concurrently with the primary for the november 2008 general election. in several ways, this sets back campaigns, because they basically have to start all over again. illinois' election laws are (from my perspective) quite arcane. by law, there was no vacancy until hastert’s resignation takes effect. "Dan White, executive director of the State Board of Elections, said he had yet to receive notice of Hastert's resignation." one assumes that this will come today. this begins the countdown. the governor has to call an election within 120 days of the vacancy for both the primary and the "general" (it's easier to call it a special election, and i will) elections. the governor has five days to set a date for these two elections; the primary is expected to coincide with the february 5 primary in illiois. apparently, as bill pascoe writes, "NO election (including a primary election) can take place fewer than 50 days after the creation of the vacancy."
But Illinois law also sets periods for collecting signatures, for filing candidacies, and for challenging candidacies. It’s my understanding that when you add up these discrete periods, you end up with a time frame of 50-57 days as a minimum requirement before ANY election -– including a primary election -– could be held.
cq notes, though:
The state board of elections prefers that there be at least 72 days between the day the governor sets the special general election and when the special primary election is held, to allow for enough time to prepare. That 72-day window is not binding in state law, though, and the state elections board could oversee the election under a more compressed timetable if the governor so mandated.
The Illinois election code does require, though, that the candidacy filing period for a special congressional election occur 50 to 57 days before the special primary election.
to me, the really interesting thing about this illinois review article (right-wing blog) was the admission by "one former State Board of Elections counsel [who] said the fact is no one really knows yet how to handle a special election at the same time a primary is being conducted. They are two completely different elections, and demand two different sets of signature petitions. But the state code doesn't make the procedure clear." and there's the rub. no one really knows how to handle a special election at the same time as a regular (primary) election.
there is the thought that this special election -- the first for congress in 2008 -- will provide a few hints of voters’ overall direction for the upcoming national campaigns, perhaps a bellweather.
The Democrats, in their 2006 upsurge, captured several House seats in districts that traditionally have favored Republicans. The contest in the 14th District — where Hastert has long dominated House races and where President Bush took 55 percent of the vote in 2004 — may test whether the Democrats continue to have the momentum to put even more Republican seats into play, or whether the GOP position has stabilized to some degree.
perhaps. but this is unknown territory, and one that requires both the candidates and their campaigns to work harder, raise more money, and push their supporters harder:
The dual nature of the campaigning – for the special election and the regular primary – could become costly for candidates who will be forced to intensify their efforts since it is unlikely that a primary voter would vote for two separate candidates for the same office to cover different time spans.
this isn't unheard of (there are examples where people are on the ballot for two different things, such as a party office and a government office), but the 14th congressional district doesn't really have a democratic party organization that one can rely on to get this across to voters.
the race for the open seat in il-14 is one of the most covered campaigns in illinois. there's an entire blog dedicated to it (although it came out of the 2006 campaign and has a decided laesch p.o.v.). hiram wurf continues to cover the race from a few miles away. aaron krager has put together a fine analysis of the race.
as i mentioned above, in a real sense, the campaigns must start over. they must pass petitions again, and mobilize volunteers to circulate petitions rather than persuade voters or identify supporters. the complexity of one's campaign organization is increased. the advantage goes to the candidate and/or campaign that can best handle this increasing complexity -- who can, in a phrase, do two or more things at once. and there's a clear benefit to those who have done this before.
many believe that this benefits john laesch, who was the 2006 democratic nominee. laesch does have the support of the netroots -- especially the netroots outside of illinois. he also has the benefit of having spent time in every corner of the district. if the electorate is not that familiar with john, the district's political activists are. he enjoys the support of many of them. he is apparently the first in the race to get a union or special interest group endorsement.
one thing that the laesch campaign has excelled at is getting earned media (they pretty much have to), and they are doing this again. they've been good about using youtube in the same way, including, for example, putting up video of press conferences that may not have been attended by the press. (you can also find debate footage at the friends of laesch youtube page.)
the consensus front runner in this race appears to be bill foster. for a first time candidate, foster entered the race remarkably prepared. in 2006, foster took off ten months to volunteer for patrick murphy's successful run for congress, and he hews closely to the positions that propelled murphy to election. but probably the biggest advantage that foster brings into this race -- and perhaps why he's perceived as the front runner -- is that he knows, and is prepared to do, what it takes to win a seat in congress. open seats for congress are more competitive and more driven by money. congressional quarterly's CQ Politics’ Top 10: Money Leaders in Open-Seat House Races names foster as one of the most aggressive candidates raising money for an open seat in congress -- along with two of the republicans running for the seat. david wasserman, an editor at the highly regarded cook political report, predicts that winning this seat will cost at least $2 million.
foster has convinced others that he's serious about winning this seat. his endorsement page not only includes early indicators like civic action, but illinois behemoths like dan hynes (state comptroller) and leading illinois progressives like alexi giannoulias (state treasurer and obama ally). and it's gotten him into the candidate's boot camp.
foster would like to make this race "a national referendum on the policies of George Bush," but some progressives want to make it a referendum on bill foster. i guess they identify foster as the front runner, too. much has been made of foster's willingness to caucus with the blue dog democrats, and his focus on fiscal responsibility. others simply object to the presence of a self-funder -- especially since their favored candidate isn't raising that much money. this hand-wringing about a serious candidate in a district with a pvi of +5 R forced chris bowers to admit, "it is important to note that Blue Dogs and Bush Dogs are not the same thing... To put it one way, a Patrick Muphy Blue Dog is the sort of Blue Dog to whom I can provide enthusiastic, activist support for Congress."
what some may not see is that foster is bringing new people into the democratic process and, presumably, into the democratic fold. that should be something that progressives support. "More than 80 percent of Foster's donors are first-time donors, and nearly three-quarters are scientists like Foster, a former Fermilab physicist." he's expanding the base in an area that is decidedly red, "The Foster campaign reported 680 contributors in the third quarter filing period," with a large number saying that they were first time contributors. and he's doing it based on issues that progressives support: "The first, second and third issue is Iraq," foster says.
you can see this focus in the second of foster's youtube videos, Bill Foster: We Must Change Course in Iraq. foster's youtube page also sports a biography video. foster's campaign also hosts a blog, has a facebook group and a flickr page. and, as i was writing this, foster's first television ad went up.
jotham stein was first in the race and has been making the rounds building support. he was the first candidate to hire staff, and has been dedicated to raising the money he needs to compete. his website is the only one to have a spanish version, which is interesting since approximately 20% of the district is hispanic. the numbers are far higher for democrats in the district.
early on in his run, stein used former candidate christine cegelis to guide him through the process of running for office. his background in the law and policy has given him the basis for the most extensive issues proposals of the democrats running. stein says,
I know I can do much better. In this campaign, I will offer real solutions to many of the real problems facing our country. From defeating global warming, to having a strong national defense, to more jobs for our district, to guaranteeing food and health care to our kids, I am taking a stand.
along with the usual facebook page, stein adds a myspace and he's taken advantage of the democratic party's partybuilder tools.
joe serra entered the race last. he comes at the race from a different position. serra says, "I am running because I feel that the elected officials in Congress today are not getting the peoples business done. I am running to rebuild our greatest asset - our military." unique among the candidates, serra has applied for endorsement by democracy for america, which requires that you fill out their simple questionaire.
stein's field director noted that "hastert just threw a wrench into a lot of field programs out there." he observed that most people are still focused on the presidential campaigns, and they are undoubtedly not aware of the fact that they will face three different elections in the next 120 days. needless to say, few understand that the campaigns *again* have to collect 873 signatures to get their candidates on the (special election) ballot. how these four campaigns interact with the electorate over that time will be key to their success.
the foster campaign has been concentrating on their mailings and phone banking. they prepared to run in the special election all along, they tell me. the moment hastert stepped down, the campaign emailed its supporters and they got immediate replies, i am told. their focus now, as expected, would be to prepare for another round of passing petitions. their campaign office (1035 E State St, Suite J, Geneva) has been a hub of activity and potential volunteers are asked to email firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more.
the foster campaign is also speeding up the hiring of additional staff in preparation for the special election. both the foster and the stein campaigns had about two dozen people circulating petitions for them for the regular primary, as well as the candidates and members of their families. given the compressed nature of this next run (about three weeks to pass petitions), they will probably need double that.
the stein campaign has been doing coffees and door-to-door of late, working out of their campaign headquarters at 115 campbell in geneva. they understand that a "grassroots movement is needed," that this period is all about educating the public. they are re-focusing on getting jotham on the ballot for the special election, although no specific plans had been made yet. stein's field director admits that "people are going to be confused" by all this and they've made plans to make the process a little easier. that includes taking advantage of an already planned large event and getting people involved at that point. but they "can't comment on specific plans for a special election right now."
the volunteer who answered the phone at the laesch campaign conveyed the location of their campaign offices at 46 w downer place in aurora, but didn't feel comfortable answering more questions. she passed the message along, but i didn't get a call back from them.
efforts to reach joe serra were not effective.