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Illinois is key battleground in congressional election

By Karen Hawkins

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, July 16 2011 2:10 p.m. MDT

CHICAGO — Democrats' path to taking back the U.S. House from Republicans in 2012 "runs right through Illinois," the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee said Saturday.

Rep. Steve Israel of New York told The Associated Press that he believes the party can pick up two to five seats in President Barack Obama's home state. Democrats need 24 seats to wrest control of the House away from Republicans, who won a majority in the 2010 election.

Central to Democrats' strategy nationally and in Illinois has been attacking Republican incumbents who risked widespread voter discontent by backing a plan to reshape Medicare.

"We need 24 seats to win the House back and end the relentless Republican assault on Medicare," Israel said. "And the path to wining those seats and protecting Medicare runs right through Illinois."

Under a plan by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., Medicare would be transformed into a voucher-like system in which future beneficiaries — those 54 and younger — would get subsidies to buy health insurance rather than have the government directly pay their doctor and hospital bills. Democrats have hammered at the plan, saying it would "end Medicare as we know it." Democrats successfully used the charge is winning a House special election in a strongly Republican district in New York in May.

Republicans counter that they believe the 2012 election will come down to jobs and spending.

"Democrats re-election chances will be judged on the effects of their job-destroying policies that have left Illinois small businesses struggling and middle-class families paychecks shrinking," said Andrea Bozek, spokeswoman for the National Republican Congressional Committee. "House Republicans' record of cutting spending and removing harmful regulations will certainly resonate with Illinois families who are tired of seeing Democrats waste their hard-earned tax dollars on failed spending plans."

Three of the five Illinois districts that Democrats consider winnable are in Chicago's suburbs, another is in central Illinois and a fifth is in western Illinois, Israel said. Of those, four are currently represented by a Republican but were won by Obama in 2008 and by Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry in 2004.

The Republican congressmen in several of those districts are "badly out of step with the moderate sensibilities of the suburban voters that they represent," Israel said.

"That's why you will see a lot of time, attention and resources in this state and it is why we are so confident," he said.

Congressional candidates' fortunes will also likely be linked to Obama's, he said.

"In any presidential campaign, on both sides of the aisle, the presidential candidate largely defines the environment," Israel said. "President Obama comes from Illinois. As well as he does in Illinois, that's how well our candidates do."

Democrats expect to benefit from a new census-based political map drawn by Illinois' Democratic-controlled Legislature and signed into law by Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn. The new map, which is expected to face a Republican challenge, has 18 instead of 19 districts because of the state's slowing population growth.

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