How did Robert Dold win back the 10th District seat?
Just hours after claiming victory in one of the most-watched legislative races in the nation, Congressman-elect Robert Dold greeted early-morning commuters Wednesday at the Ogilvie Transporation Center in Chicago to thank them for their support.
Dold, a Kenilworth Republican who reclaimed the 10th District seat from two-time Democratic rival Brad Schneider of Deerfield, shook hand after hand as people quickly walked past. Some stopped long enough to take a picture with the newly elected lawmaker.
"We are excited about how things happened last night and the hard work begins today," Dold said. "We need to try and make sure we end the gridlock in Washington and to move forward."
Dold had a solid victory Tuesday, earning nearly 52 percent of the vote, unofficial results showed. He carried both Lake and Cook counties, which Schneider had done two years earlier when he narrowly defeated Dold to win the post.
This time, however, Schneider didn't benefit from the Democratic voting surge that came out to support President Obama's re-election.
In a discussion with the Daily Herald earlier in the campaign, Dold predicted that would hurt Schneider at the polls.
"We don't have President Obama at the top of the ticket this time," he said.
Dold also had more support this time from people who cast ballots before Election Day. Two years ago, Schneider pulled ahead based on the overwhelming backing he got from Democrats who voted early.
In Lake County, slightly more than half of the people who voted early or by mail supported Dold. Data wasn't available for the Cook County portion of the 10th District.
"We focused on the early vote," Dold said Wednesday. "We wanted to make sure we got people out."
Dold's work made a big difference, said Pete Couvall, a leader with Lake County's Democratic Party organization.
"They caught up to us," he said.
The 10th District stretches from Lake Michigan into the North and Northwest suburbs. It was redrawn before the 2012 election to eliminate some traditionally right-leaning neighborhoods, ostensibly to give a Democratic candidate an edge.
Even with that geographical advantage, Schneider won that year by fewer than 3,000 votes -- less than 1 percent of the total votes cast in the race. On Tuesday, Dold was on top by more than 6,400 votes.
The campaign was a costly one, with both candidates spending millions of dollars on TV spots and mailers.
Many of Schneider's ads and public comments on the campaign trail were negative, attacking Dold for his votes on abortion, the environment and health care.
Dold generally wasn't as harsh in his public comments and advertisements. Although he took some shots at Schneider, Dold primarily promoted himself as an independent thinker and bipartisan lawmaker willing to cross party lines to work on legislation.
"I do think that's what people are looking for," Dold said Wednesday.
That approach has worked for years in the 10th District, where voters often are more willing to split tickets than those in other Chicago-area neighborhoods.
"We wanted to make sure we were putting a positive message out, giving people a reason to vote for us," Dold said.
The race also was a rare opportunity for people to choose between two candidates with experience in the job they were seeking. With a little bit of Internet research, interested voters could see how Dold and Schneider had voted on similar bills.
Dold felt he had an edge there. During the campaign, he criticized Schneider as ineffective during his time in Washington, blasting him for not proposing as much legislation as he did.
"There's no comparison," Dold told the Daily Herald during the campaign.
Kent Redfield, professor emeritus at University of Illinois at Springfield, said Schneider's record hurt him.
"Since Congress accomplished very little in the last two years and because Schneider was in the minority, he did not have a bring-home-the-bacon set of accomplishments," Redfield said. "Frankly, it does not appear that Schneider cast much of a shadow over the past two years."
Thanks to Tuesday's results, the GOP now will control both the U.S. House and Senate for the first time in years. But Republicans shouldn't see it as an opportunity to push through an ideological agenda, Dold said. Compromise is needed if they expect any bills they send to the White House to get the president's signature.
"I don't think this is a (GOP) mandate," Dold said. "Bipartisan legislation is critical."
Schneider won Round 1 in 2012, and Dold won Round 2 Tuesday night. Will there be another rematch in 2016?
Schneider's campaign declined an interview request.
The Democratic Party's Couvall thinks the political landscape might be right for a third Dold-Schneider contest.
If Hillary Clinton is the Democrats' presidential nominee as expected, Democratic voter turnout in Illinois could again be high. That could bode well for Schneider, Couvall said.
"He could win it," Couvall said.
Redfield thinks the Democrats could get the seat back in 2016, too.
"Two years from now, if Congress accomplishes very little and the presidential campaign ignores Illinois because it is a blue state, this district could flip back to the Democrats if they have a good candidate," he said.