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updated: 5/5/2011 6:54 PM

DCCC Chair: Suburbs 'center of gravity' in 2012 election

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  • U.S. Rep. Steve Israel, a Democrat from New York

    U.S. Rep. Steve Israel, a Democrat from New York

and Projects Writer

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel calls the suburbs "the center of gravity in American politics" for the 2012 election.

Several of the seats the party is vying to take back from freshman Republicans are clustered around one another in Cook, Lake, Kane and McHenry counties, where there are lots of independent voters, many of whom punched Democratic ballots for John Kerry in the 2004 presidential election and Barack Obama in 2008.

Ten days after the Daily Herald interviewed new GOP Chair Reince Priebus about Republicans' suburban focus in 2012, Israel, a congressman from New York, also shared some of the Democratic Party's strategies looking forward to the next 18 months -- focusing particularly on the 10th Congressional District, with the 8th and 14th also in the spotlight.

Here's why the suburbs are so hot.

Q. Explain the party's macro-view of the 2012 congressional election campaign right now, and what exactly your "Drive to 25" means.

A. We need 25 seats to take the House back and stop Republicans from ending Medicare. That path goes right through Illinois and winds around the suburbs of Chicago. The suburbs will be the center of gravity in American politics in 2012.

Q. How does Illinois and the suburbs compare to other states within the overall campaign?

A. In Illinois, many of the districts we want to win back are concentrated in one media market. We also feel they're currently represented by Republicans who are so badly out of touch with the suburban sensibilities of their districts that they have put those districts in play.

Q. Recent media ads seem to put a particularly intense focus on winning back the 10th District -- held for a decade by moderate Republican (now Senator) Mark Kirk of Highland Park, and now by Robert Dold of Kenilworth, who also presents himself as a fiscal conservative and social moderate. Why?

A. Illinois' 10th District not only voted for Obama in 2008 but also voted for John Kerry (in 2004). In our "Drive to 25" campaign to take back 25 house seats, the 10th District, as well as the 17th District, are the two in Illinois that voted for both Kerry and Obama. Dold is no Mark Kirk. You put Bob Dold's next to (tea party leader) Michelle Bachman's and there's no daylight.

Q. The DCCC has also been talking about taking back the 8th Congressional District, where Republican Joe Walsh defeated three-term Democrat Melissa Bean of Barrington by 291 votes in November. What's your strategy here?

A. Melissa Bean lost by a couple hundred votes. The district is so much in play that one of the first pronouncements Walsh said was that he expected to lose. It's an admission that you're just not in touch.

Q. Melissa Bean has stated she won't be running for the 8th District seat again.

What does not having her running again mean for you?

A. I would love for Melissa to run. I traveled to Chicago to urge her to run.

My very first trip as chair was to Chicago where I met with Melissa. She said she'd had a variety of job offers, I respect that. Notwithstanding Melissa's decision, "Illinois 8" is a swing district with a congressman that is way too far to the right. It's competitive for any Democrat.

Q. Talk about your strategy in the 14th District, where Republican Randy Hultgren defeated first-term Democrat Bill Foster.

A. We've been in touch with Democrats in every single one of those districts that are competitive. Former members that have served before, including Bill. I've sought Bill's advice. He'd be great as a candidate and as a returning member of Congress.

Q. Do you expect the current redistricting process -- controlled by Democratic leaders in Springfield -- to influence your work in the 2012?

A. That is going to clearly influence the districts. For Democrats, redistricting is going to be good news. In Illinois, you have a Democratic governor, a Democratic (state) House, a Democratic Senate. We are confident redistricting will be fairer and more balanced than it will be in areas more controlled by Republicans.

Q. There seems to be a particular focus by Democrats on Republicans' proposal to make cuts to Medicare in their current budget plan. Why?

A. There's no question. This vote is a defining vote in this Congress. Defines who you are and who you stand with. We are going to hold Republicans accountable.

Q. We've noticed a number of radio and web ads criticizing the voting records of freshman Republicans. What's your budget?

A. Doing this in real time. Our drive to 25 is reality based, but is responding to specific circumstances on the ground. This is a marathon not a sprint. We're going to make a budget decision based on the next 17 months, not what's happening this week. Will have the resources we need. There is no number set in stone. One of the great successes that we have is that we've actually raised more money that the Republicans. We beat them in fundraising despite being in the minority. The DCCC had the strongest off-year first quarter in our history.