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updated: 8/30/2012 5:05 AM

Kerry in Tampa: Dold seeks to redefine himself as independent Republican

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  • Congressman Bob Dold, of Kenilworth, who will address Illinois delegates today at the Republican National Convention, seeks to define himself as an independent and attract moderates and women while also championing the causes of today's GOP.

       Congressman Bob Dold, of Kenilworth, who will address Illinois delegates today at the Republican National Convention, seeks to define himself as an independent and attract moderates and women while also championing the causes of today's GOP.
    Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer B

  • Bob Dold

      Bob Dold

 
By Kerry Lester
Politics and Projects Writer>
klester@dailyherald.com

TAMPA -- The tightrope walk Republican Congressman Bob Dold finds himself on in a race for re-election is more evident than ever this week in Tampa.

Dold, of Kenilworth, who will address Illinois delegates today at the Republican National Convention, seeks to define himself as an independent and attract moderates and women while also championing the causes of today's GOP.

A Republican who early on supported former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's bid for the presidency, Dold is a favorite of Washington leadership, including GOP chief Deputy Whip Peter Roskam of Wheaton.

Yet, Dold is campaigning for a second term in the newly drawn 10th Congressional District, one that analysts consider perhaps the most Democratic district currently represented by a Republican in the nation.

He is campaigning against Deerfield Democrat Brad Schneider, who also is selling his independent streak to voters, in part by staying away from his party's convention in Charlotte next week so he can campaign in the district, which covers part of Lake and northern Cook counties.

Dold is spending a portion of this week courting favor at the GOP convention -- whose party bigwigs have and will continue to donate to his war chest -- but also set aside some time for campaigning in his district.

Dold, owner of a pest control business, is attending breakfasts, speeches and parties in Tampa, but will not give an address from the convention floor. Instead, he is expected to speak Thursday morning before the Illinois delegates at a group breakfast at their Clearwater Beach hotel.

Two weeks after Romney named Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan as his vice presidential pick, Dold has tried to distance himself from the anti-abortion conservative whose controversial budget plan he voted for twice.

"Dold's public image is going to be all about sounding more independent," said David Yepsen, director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University. "It's a tough balancing act. He's got to win independent votes, moderate women in the suburbs." He also has to show his loyalty to party ideals and colleagues.

While fundraising is technically prohibited at national conventions, the networking and elbow-rubbing that takes place there will ultimately result in money being sent to Dold's campaign coffers, Yepsen said.

"It's a chance for every political figure to talk to those who control purse strings ... to talk to the money people and the operatives," he said.

The new 10th District runs from the Wisconsin line as far south as Maine Township and includes the North Shore as well as parts of Libertyville, Vernon, Fremont, Avon, Grant, Warren and Lake Villa townships. Its boundaries were drawn by Democrats, the party that controls the Illinois legislature, to maximize chances of their party's victory.

Democratic Congressional Committee Chair Steve Israel in mid-August cited the 10th as a district the committee believes it can turn from "red to blue."

Other "red-to-blue" congressional districts he envisioned in Illinois are the 8th, where Hoffman Estates Democrat Tammy Duckworth is taking on Republican Congressman Joe Walsh of McHenry, and the 11th, where Republican Congresswoman Judy Biggert of Hinsdale faces a challenge from former Democratic Congressman Bill Foster of Naperville.

Dold's fight, however, is predicted to be the closest and most expensive of those three. Dold had a 4 to 1 cash-on-hand advantage over Schneider in late June, with the benefit of not having to spend money in a primary election. Dold is spending big money on television advertising -- including a recently announced $1.8 million on airtime in October and November.

Schneider has said he remains "confident we'll have the resources to compete."

Dold, a social liberal and fiscal conservative in the mold of his predecessor, now U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk of Highland Park, defeated Democrat Dan Seals to win his seat in 2010 as part of a Republican wave that took control of the U.S. House.

"The 10th District has a reputation of thoughtful independent leadership," Dold said during a July interview on WBBM Newsradio's "At Issue," noting he's proud of the fact that he's stood up to the Republican Party on several different issues. Those include sponsoring legislation that would help protect Planned Parenthood and being one of the few to sponsor -- and vote for -- a bipartisan budget plan. Dold uses the health care law's proper name -- the Affordable Care Act -- over "Obamacare," the term many of his colleagues prefer, and describes himself as an "independent" almost as often as he calls himself a Republican.

"I am a Republican, but certainly I vote (independently). I think independence is important, in the idea I want to look at both sides," he said in the interview.

Schneider, who has cut at Dold's claim of independence, says he'll be staying home from the Democratic National Convention next week because he needs "to be out in the district and be talking to voters."

Will that play to Schneider's advantage? Not necessarily, Yepsen says. "I think each one of them has different agendas and different needs right now. Might make sense (with a Democratic incumbent as president) for a Republican to go to his and a Democrat not to go his."

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