Brad Schneider likens his 10th Congressional District matchup against U.S. Rep. Bob Dold to the famed 1970s boxing three-peat between Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali.
Schneider, a Deerfield Democrat, and Dold, a Kenilworth Republican, are facing each other for the third straight election in a moderate district targeted by both political parties as one of the most important in the nation. Schneider bested Dold, then the incumbent, in 2012, riding President Barack Obama's coattails and aided by a redrawn district that favored the Democrat. Dold regained the seat during 2014's midterm advance for the GOP nationally.
"I welcome the three-peat and the opportunity to once again go head-to head with Schneider," Dold said.
Schneider notes the two have "been fighting this fight for awhile. I just hope I'm Ali (the victor) this time around."
In this year's matchup, Dold wants nothing to do with Donald Trump's coattails. He has stayed home from the Republican National Convention, like some other top Republican officials, and repudiated the GOP presidential candidate who will formally accept the party nomination Thursday.
"He's not my guy; I will not support him," said Dold, who is spending convention week highlighting initiatives he's sponsored and working to connect with the district's Latino voters.
Both parties see the 10th District, which covers eastern and central Lake County plus part of northern Cook County, as key and are devoting significant resources to the race.
Republicans aim to keep control of Congress by preventing any seats from turning over.
Democrats see the 10th as an opportunity, with Park Ridge native Hillary Clinton at the top of the ticket and a trend of higher Democratic turnout in presidential years.
In recent months, both candidates have sought to portray themselves as the truly independent voice in the district, while casting his opponent as toeing the party line.
Dold is fiscally conservative and socially moderate in the mold of Republican predecessors Mark Kirk and John Porter, who together held the district for 30 years between 1980 and 2010. But in 2012, a new political map, drawn by the Democrats controlling the Illinois statehouse, went into effect, and Dold now represents the country's most Democratic-leaning district held by the GOP, according to the Cook Political Report's Partisan Voting Index.
That provides added incentive for creating distance between himself and Trump.
In late 2015, Dold said he could not support Trump after Trump dismissed Sen. John McCain of Arizona as "a war hero because he was captured."
"That's completely unacceptable," said Dold, whose uncle was the second American shot down in the Vietnam War and spent eight years as a prisoner of war.
Dold, 46, who previously ran his family's pest control business, is known around town for his blue fleece campaign vests and his multiday mega-bus tours across the district.
Schneider, 54, a management consultant, is known for his soft-spoken style and small roundtables with groups of constituents. He's portrayed himself as both a progressive and independent from his own party, highlighting his initial refusal to support a 2015 Iran sanctions deal, a nod to the district's large Jewish population, some of whom have criticized the deal as deeply flawed.
Now that it's in place, however, Schneider said he supports the agreement to ensure Iran doesn't acquire nuclear weapons, though he remains "critical" of it.
That stance was among the factors that cost him the support of Democratic U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, who backed his primary opponent, Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering, instead. "I think it certainly helps to be in a presidential year," Schneider said. "I think (voters) are looking at things more closely because they know us very well."
But Dold's campaign manager, James Slepian, says the congressman has made a concerted effort to pick up Latino votes by highlighting pushes for immigration reform and support for gun control. The campaign has nearly doubled its field operation from 2014, boosting the number of full-time interns from 90 to 150.
Dold is also promoting bipartisan legislation he's sponsored, including opioid legislation, increasing access to heroin antidotes, that has been sent to the president's desk.
The most recent Federal Election Commission reports show Dold has $2.32 million in cash on hand, while Schneider has $969,008. The candidates together spent more than $8 million in 2014.
"We believe turnout will be higher, but I don't believe the intensity will be there the way it was with President Obama," Dold said. "If Brad thinks we're going to wait for the wave to take him because he's a Democrat, that's going to be problematic for him."