In a race that will likely send tremors throughout the House GOP leadership, Republicans have lost former House Speaker Dennis Hastert’s seat in a hotly-contested special election in exurban Chicago.
Democratic physicist Bill Foster, running in his first political campaign, will be heading to Congress after defeating Republican dairy owner Jim Oberweis in a result that was unthinkable just weeks ago.
With 98 percent of precincts reporting, Foster leads Oberweis 52 to 48 percent.
Oberweis was even unable to win in Hastert’s home base of Kendall County -- a reliably Republican fast-growing county in exurban Chicago. It voted for Foster by a narrow margin.
The loss is a huge psychological blow to the Republican party, already reeling from a slew of Congressional retirements and fundraising woes. Democrats hadn’t contested Hastert’s seat since 1986, and in Foster, had a political novice running in a traditionally Republican district.
The National Republican Congressional Committee spent over $1 million in the race – nearly one-fifth of their entire cash-on-hand – in a failed attempt to hold on what should have been a fairly easy seat to retain.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee also spent $1 million in ads attacking Oberweis.
“Congratulations to Bill Foster on his victory tonight. Bill Foster’s victory in the seat that was held by Speaker Hastert sends a political shock wave across America this election year. It is a stunning rejection of the Bush Administration, its Republican allies, and presidential nominee John McCain," said DCCC chairman Chris Van Hollen in a statement.
“Despite spending 20 percent of the their cash on hand, the NRCC was unable to hold a seat easily won by President Bush and held by Speaker Hastert for 20 years."
Both party’s leading presidential candidates spent time in the district to campaign for both Foster and Oberweis. The Foster campaign aired an advertisement in the campaign’s final week featuring Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) touting Foster’s ability to bring change to Washington.
And Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) appeared alongside Oberweis last month before hosting a fundraiser that netted the Oberweis campaign nearly $257,000.
The election is for the remainder of Hastert’s unexpired term. A rematch between the two candidates for the full term will be held in November.