There was a front page store in today's Moline Dispatch talking about how competitive and expense the 2006 race to represent the Illinois 17th Congressional District was going to be because there is no incumbent running. There was a prediction that it could be even more expensive than in 1998 when the Republicans last mounted a serious challenge for the seat. All I could think when I read it was "someone is blowing some serious smoke."
Take a look at the map of the 17th Congressional District. It was obviously drawn to include every urban Democratic precinct in north western and west central Illinois. This was done after 1998 to make it a safe Democratic district and the other districts, Dennis Hastert’s and Ray LaHood’s districts, safe Republican seats.
In 1998 national polls showed the voters tilting toward the Republicans. The national Republicans targeted races where they thought they had a chance to win a Democratic seat, including the 17th District in Illinois. Things are very different this year. In addition to the redrawn district the poll numbers are very different. This year the polls show the voters tilting toward the Democrats and everyone expects Democrats to pick up seats. No one expects any safe Democratic seats to be lost to the Republicans, except possibly some local experts blowing smoke.
So when someone is blowing smoke at you it is a good idea to figure out why. In the case of the newspaper story it probably was a case of a reporter and a political expert pretending they had a more interesting and exciting race to cover than they actually do.
But other smoke is going to be blown at the Democratic precinct committeemen of the 17th Congressional District over the next few weeks by people hoping to get a particular person selected as the Democratic nominee. Sometimes it will be obvious who is being promoted and sometimes not. Someone trying to get Mike Jacobs selected, for example, will emphasize how important it will be for the nominee to be someone who can raise a lot of money. Someone supporting Phil Hare will emphasize how important it is for the nominee to have the support of Evan’s campaign and office staff and Lane’s friends in Congress. Mark Schwiebert supporters will emphasize how important it is for the nominee to be a proven vote getter who is attractive to swing voters.
Be sure to note that for any of this smoke to work the smokee has to be convinced that the race will be very competitive. If the precinct committeemen know that anyone they select as the Democratic nominee is going to win in November then they can select whoever they personally like and ignore any talk about who would make the strongest candidate in November. Also note that the supporters of candidates not thought to be popular with the precinct committeemen will be the most vigorous smoke blowers. Some may even post hysterical comments in response to this blog entry.