GOP incumbent state representative spends big to keep seat

A 20-year Republican state representative is spending big to retain his seat against a Democratic anti-O'Hare noise activist in what has quickly become the most expensive race for General Assembly in the state.

Michael McAuliffe, the lone GOP public office holder in Chicago, says the contest against political newcomer Merry Marwig is one of his biggest challenges in years - in a district usually left untouched by powerful Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan.

The 20th district includes portions of Des Plaines, Rosemont, Park Ridge, Niles, Schiller Park and Chicago's Northwest Side, where both McAuliffe and Marwig live.

McAuliffe, 52, believes Democrats are targeting him now since the politically-divided district "could go either way" this presidential election year.

"Hillary (Clinton) grew up and lived in my district," McAuliffe said during a recent interview with the Daily Herald Editorial Board. "The Dems feel that there was a seat they could pick up that they don't have in the 'D' column."

Marwig, 31, an East Dundee native who bought a home in Chicago in 2013, said she decided to make her first run for office after "running into brick walls" with elected officials on the airport noise issue. Marwig was on the leadership team of the Fair Allocation in Runways Coalition. She is currently taking a leave of absence as chief of staff at a software firm while she runs for office.

"I got involved because I am worried about our neighborhood," Marwig said. "People are tired of lip service. They're tired of someone who has been down there and just has lost touch."

McAuliffe has received more than $1.5 million from state GOP political committees controlled by Gov. Bruce Rauner and House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, helping to fund two television commercials on local airwaves since August.

Marwig has received about $328,000 from Democratic Party leaders.

As of Wednesday, McAuliffe's campaign committee had more than $1.5 million on hand, and Marwig's had $536,000 - together, making it the most expensive state House or Senate race so far, according to the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, which tracks campaign spending.

McAuliffe said the state budget stalemate has motivated Republican donors, while he believes Rauner and Durkin are sending so much cash his way because he is a longtime incumbent.

But he's also quick to point out his independence from his party and ability to work with Democrats. He sponsored a bill on hepatitis C screening that Rauner vetoed, and got a bill passed requiring insurance companies to cover 3-D mammograms.

Marwig, too, claimed independence from her party's leaders, saying she will work for the best interests of residents.

She questioned the amount of McAuliffe's campaign spending.

"What are they trying to hedge against? I would say it's Michael McAuliffe's poor record. Twenty years down there. What does he have to show for his time?"

McAuliffe pointed to state funding he secured for new libraries in Harwood Heights and Chicago's Oriole Park neighborhood, and money for roads, bridges and streets in the district.

"She didn't live in the district so she wouldn't know," he said. "I'm not going to run around telling everybody every two years everything I've done. I think the residents know what I've done."

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