On his way to winning the Democratic nomination for the 10th Congressional District seat, Brad Schneider fought accusations that he wasn't liberal enough for primary voters.
That criticism chiefly came from eventual runner-up Ilya Sheyman and some political groups backing him, including MoveOn.org. They questioned Schneider's loyalty to Democratic ideals and even called him a Republican in fliers and on attack websites.
Schneider rebuked those allegations, and enough voters sided with him to give the Deerfield management consultant a solid victory in the race.
Now that he's set to battle freshman Republican Rep. Robert Dold in the November general election, Schneider has said he's going to try to win over the voters and activists who sided with Sheyman in the primary.
The effort, he said, will start with a conversation.
"You guys made a decision before getting to know me, now let's sit down and talk," Schneider said.
Solidifying the Democratic base should be important for Schneider, but the 10th District has a reputation for independent voters who split tickets, said Kent Redfield, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Illinois Springfield.
As has been the case in the past, the Dold-Scheider race won't be won on the far left or far right, Redfield said.
"If the Sheyman supporters stay home it will make winning more difficult, but the district is still going to be won in the middle," Redfield said in an email.
As for Dold, he will continue to tout what he says has been a bipartisan approach to lawmaking. That also means fighting attempts by Schneider and the Democrats to depict him as a conservative aligned with the Tea Party.
"The facts just aren't there," Dold, of Kenilworth, said of the left's efforts.
A Schneider win in November would be historic.
The 10th District includes parts of Lake and Cook counties, stretching from Lake Michigan into the North and Northwest suburbs. A Democrat hasn't held the seat since Rep. Abner J. Mikva resigned to become an appellate judge in 1979.
Mikva was succeeded in 1980 by Republican John Porter, in 2000 by Republican Mark Kirk and then in 2010 by Dold. Aside from Mikva, Republicans have held the seat since 1915.
Following the 2010 Census, the district was reshaped by Democratic lawmakers in Springfield to give their party an edge. Some traditionally Republican areas along the lakeshore and in the Northwest suburbs were shifted to other districts, giving the new 10th more of a Democratic tilt.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has said winning the 10th District seat is a priority this year.
The Dold-Schneider showdown has been identified as one of the group's "Red to Blue" races, 18 contests in which Democrats are challenging Republican incumbents.
The DCCC is promising financial, communication and strategic support to Schneider and the other Democratic challengers in "Red to Blue" contests. In Illinois, they include 8th District candidate Tammy Duckworth, who's taking on Republican Congressman Joe Walsh, and the 11th District's Bill Foster, who is challenging Rep. Judy Biggert.
That's good news for Schneider, who had spent more than $500,000 on the primary through Feb. 29 and entered March with $210,000 in his campaign coffers -- far less than the $1.2 million Dold had amassed by then.
"Because this district is one of the top targets for the national Democrats in Congress, there should be sufficient money and organizational support (for Schneider)," Redfield said. "That being said, the more support Schneider can get from the hard-core Sheyman supporters, the better."
GOP fires early shot
Republican Party leaders already are fighting to keep the seat.
The day after Schneider's March 20 primary win, the National Republican Congressional Committee sent out a memo chiding Schneider for not getting at least 50 percent of the vote in a race against "a 25-year-old," referring to the youthful Sheyman.
Schneider captured about 47 percent of the vote, unofficial results showed.
The memo also talked about the fundraising gap between Dold and his Democratic challenger, noting it's a lot of ground to make up "in what is sure to be a costly race."
Millions certainly will be spent on both sides of this contest, as was the case when Dold beat Democrat Dan Seals in 2010.
Dold said he's met Schneider at political events and parades but added he "(doesn't) know what to make of him."
The congressman acknowledged the district boundaries were redrawn to give a Democrat an edge but said his approach to politics isn't changing.
Dold has cast plenty of votes with his Republican allies and is a proud fiscal conservative. However, he said he's also supported Planned Parenthood, most recently on the House floor during a fight over federal funding for the controversial group.
"We're going to continue to work in that (bipartisan) manner," he said. "We're going to continue to work across the aisle."
When asked about the centrist image Dold works to promote, Schneider said the congressman "has been part of this Republican Congress that has allowed the Tea Party to block economic progress just to score points against President Obama."
Time for unity
Schneider and the other Democrats came together March 22 for a partisan rally at the Cubby Bear North near Lincolnshire.
Unity was the keyword of the event.
"Throughout this primary contest, every candidate and their supporters were united in their desire to beat Congressman Dold and (to) get Congress focused on the middle class families throughout the 10th District," Schneider said afterward.
"We all share the same progressive values that will unite our party," he added.
Despite his earlier mudslinging, Sheyman -- a professional activist who built a sizable, well-funded organization for the primary -- has pledged to back Schneider.
"Brad is intelligent, thoughtful and truly cares about the communities of the 10th District," Sheyman said in an email. "Democrats across the district know that we all need to come together to defeat Bob Dold."
Not every Democrat may be as willing to join Team Schneider, however.
Ellen Beth Gill, a liberal Deerfield blogger who writes about local and national politics, supported third-place candidate John Tree in the primary and was critical of Schneider and Sheyman.
A few days after the primary, Gill published a tongue-in-cheek entry titled "Top 10 Reasons to Support Brad Schneider." She listed "He's taller than Dold" and "We won't have to pick up all his yard signs if we run him again" among her reasons.
Gill declined to be interviewed.
Democrats who viewed the primary as an ideological fight and backed Sheyman probably aren't going to support Schneider now, Redfield said.
"For true believers and for those who (took) the outcome of the primary as personal, there probably isn't much Schneider can do," Redfield said.