Can a social conservative win in the 10th House District?

For years, Republican voters in Illinois' 10th House District have nominated candidates who support a woman's right to have an abortion, even though that stance defies the GOP platform.

The district's last Republican congressman, Bob Dold, supported same-sex marriage as well. His predecessor, Republican Mark Kirk, backed abortion and gay-rights issues and came out in favor of same-sex marriage after jumping to the U.S. Senate.

Two of the three candidates running for the GOP nomination in the 10th District this year, Dr. Sapan Shah and Jeremy Wynes, endorse same-sex marriage and abortion rights. The third, Doug Bennett, does not.

Some political observers believe a social conservative can nab the GOP nomination in the 10th District. But defeating incumbent Democrat Brad Schneider in November's general election would be a bigger challenge, especially because the district was redrawn in 2011 to exclude some traditionally Republican neighborhoods in Cook County and include more left-leaning precincts in Lake County.

"It's a very tough district for any Republican, let alone a social-conservative Republican, to win," said Mark Shaw, chairman of the Lake County Republican Party.

The issues

The 10th District stretches from Lake Michigan into the North and Northwest suburbs. The winner of the March 20 GOP primary will face Schneider in November.

The three Republicans discussed abortion, same-sex marriage and other issues in a group Daily Herald interview. The man they're trying to unseat, Schneider, is an outspoken supporter of same-sex marriage and abortion rights.

Wynes, a Highland Park resident and the former Midwest director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, labeled himself a social moderate. He said his stances on abortion and marriage will help him gain support among 10th District voters, who are known for splitting tickets rather than voting for all Republican or all Democratic candidates.

"You are rewarded for your ability to show independence from party leadership (in this district)," Wynes said.

Shah, a Libertyville resident and the senior vice president of a medical malpractice insurance company, also spurned the GOP platform on marriage and abortion.

"As a physician, I support a woman's right to choose," Shah said. "I think it's between her and her doctor."

Bennett, a computer consultant from Deerfield, is on the other side of both issues.

"We're much more conservative than our friends here at this table," he said.

Bennett opposes abortion but cited exceptions, such as rape or when pregnancy puts the mother's life at risk.

He said he would've backed the recent proposal to ban abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, a bill that had been supported by President Donald Trump but failed in the Senate. The House passed an identical bill last year.

Bennett also said he'd vote for legislation requiring parental notification for teens intending to have abortions.

Beyond that, Bennett said there's "no point" in talking about any legislation that would contravene the Supreme Court's landmark 1973 decision that deemed abortion a constitutional right.

"I'm not going to support any law that would be overturned 12 hours later," he said.

As for marriage, Bennett said he prefers the traditional definition, between a man and a woman. But again, Bennett noted the Supreme Court has decided the issue.

Primary vs. general

Even though the 10th District has nominated moderate Republicans for years, the Lake County GOP's Shaw said Bennett may have some advantages over Shah and Wynes in the primary.

People who vote in primaries tend to be party die-hards on polar opposites of the political spectrum, Shaw said. Voter turnout typically is lower in a primary than in a general election, too.

That means the 10th District GOP primary could draw more conservative voters than moderates, Shaw said.

Additionally, Wynes and Shah could split votes from moderate Republicans while Bennett receives all the votes from conservatives, Shaw said. That could net Bennett the nomination.

But winning in November would be a tougher battle for the socially conservative Bennett, political experts say.

Kent Redfield, a professor emeritus of political science at University of Illinois at Springfield, said the makeup of the 10th District and its voting history favor candidates who are "pro-choice, pro-gay marriage and pro-Israel" in general elections.

"Being on the wrong side or even soft on any of these issues will cost a candidate votes in the general election, votes that can make a difference in the outcome," Redfield said.

Those votes especially matter in the 10th District, which has seen very close congressional elections this decade even though the map favors Democratic candidates.

"I think a Republican who does not fit (the social moderate) profile could win a primary in the 10th, depending on the field," Redfield said. "But that candidate would have a serious disadvantage in the general."

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