8th District seat continues to attract 'outsiders'
Illinois' 8th U.S. Congressional District, occupying a big chunk of the Northwest and West suburbs, has a population approximately equal to that of every other in the state.
But unlike many of those other districts, virtually every candidate who has run for and won the House seat over the past decade began their journey from outside its borders.
Due to Republican-controlled redistricting in 2000, Democrat Melissa Bean of Barrington lived just blocks outside the 8th District when she defeated longtime incumbent Phil Crane in 2004 and throughout her three subsequent terms.
Republican Joe Walsh was living in Winnetka and the 10th District when he launched his successful campaign in 2010.
The Barrington-area native kept his promise to move back to the 8th if he won. But he was later redistricted out by the Democratic-controlled remapping that brought Hoffman Estates Democrat, and current representative, Tammy Duckworth into the 8th after she'd lost a bid for the 6th District seat.
This year's Republican candidates in the March 18 primary both could be labeled outsiders, a charge each has lobbed toward the other.
Manju Goel, 48, lives in Aurora, about 17 miles outside the 8th District by the measure of her opponent Larry Kaifesh's campaign.
Goel acknowledges this, but said she is familiar with the 8th District and the issues it's facing through her work experience and professional contacts. She owns property in the 8th District and pays taxes on it, she added.
She sees Kaifesh, 46, as the outsider. Kaifesh, who had been living in Virginia while working with the U.S. Marines, recently moved back to his native Carpentersville to run in the 8th. Goel questions Kaifesh's commitment to the district, noting he owns condos in Virginia and California, and his Carpentersville residence is on a lease that expires 12 days after the primary.
Kaifesh said it's been his longtime wish to live back among family and friends in his hometown. The short-term lease, he said, was the quickest and easiest way he could find a place to live last fall.
There is no legal requirement to live in the district one is representing. But even so, it begs the question, why is the 8th District popular among Congressional hopefuls who live outside it?
Paul Green, director of the Institute for Politics at Roosevelt University, suggests it may be because the district is winnable for either party.
"There aren't many potential swing districts in Illinois," he said.
Besides the 8th, Green said the only true swing districts are the 11th, which Democrat Bill Foster now represents, and the 10th, currently represented by Democrat Brad Schneider.
The 8th and 10th in particular are populated by higher educated, higher income residents who are more likely to go back and forth between parties, Green said. Both have been trending Democratic in recent years with the struggle Republican candidates have had with suburban women voters, he added.
Green said it's been typically true that a candidate who wins a district twice in a row can hold onto it at least until the next redistricting. There's a popular adage, he added, that says that the pencil wielded by the mapmaker in redistricting is equal to the efforts of 500 congressional workers.
Walsh said the suburbs are the sole political battleground in Illinois, with Chicago unwaveringly Democratic and downstate resolutely Republican.
He decided to move from Winnetka to take on Bean in the 8th because the seat in his 10th District already was held by Republican Mark Kirk.
When his home was redistricted into the 14th District for the 2012 election, Walsh said he had to decide whether to take on fellow Republican incumbent Randy Hultgren or remain in a newly drawn 8th District that would be more favorable to a Democrat. He opted to stay in the 8th and face Duckworth.
Had he won, Walsh said he would have moved again to be back in the redrawn 8th District. He said it was important personally to live in the district he represented, but at the same time he's endorsed Goel for her ability to grow the party among minority groups.
Walsh said he finds the partisan nature of redistricting to be deplorable, and notes that his Democratic predecessor, Bean, was just as much a victim of it when she challenged Crane.
Bean declined to comment for this story.
Duckworth said she there's a difference in the 8th District from those around it, making her proud to live there and represent it. While less urban than Chicago's districts, it's distinct from other parts of the suburbs for its strong economic and manufacturing base, she said.
Goel said she also sees that as part of the district's appeal, and a quality she believes current economic policies have eroded.
"We need to bring that back," Goel said. "So why not this district? I am proud to be from this district."
Kaifesh said he also sees an economic decline in his native Congressional district. He blames the policies of the Obama administration and sees Duckworth as being its local face.
"I've watched the political scenario," Kaifesh said. "My primary opponent has not. This is my focus, this is my life, this is my priority."
The 8th District is roughly centered in Schaumburg and includes parts of Northwest Cook, eastern Kane and central DuPage counties.
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