Democratic challenger Brad Schneider claimed victory tonight over freshman Republican Rep. Robert Dold in a North Shore congressional race tonight.
Schneider leads by about 1,500 out of more than 252,000 cast with nearly 97 percent of precincts counted. Schneider had a late surge in Lake County after leading in Cook County most of the evening.
Dold's supporters and staff gathered in the concert hall at Viper Alley, a music venue in Lincolnshire, as oldies and light rock blared over the sound system. Partygoers ate pizza and sipped beer as they tensely watched muted big screen TVs that flashed presidential vote results from various cable news channels.
Voters got their chance to weigh in after months of a contentious campaign that featured millions of dollars spent on attack ads.
Dold vastly out raised Schneider, taking in $4.2 million to his challenger’s $2.5 million. As of Oct. 17, Dold had $1.5 million for the sprint to election day while Schneider had $94,000.
Outside groups also went heavily in Dold's favor, financing a barrage of ads supporting the incumbent or attacking Schneider in the last weeks of the campaign. Heavyweights in Dold's corner included the National Republican Congressional Committee, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Congressional Leadership Fund and an organization set up by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose group funneled money to politicians he considers moderate.
Outside groups spent an estimated $4.7 million on Dold compared to $1.7 million on Schneider's behalf.
Schneider, a wealthy Deerfield management consultant, had to spend to win a four-way March primary.
The fall contest drew particular interest because the 10th District, where voters have had a reputation for moderate views and ticket splitting tickets, was redrawn to boost Democratic chances following Dold’s 51 percent to 49 percent win over Dan Seals in 2010.
The territory, which ropes in affluent North Shore neighborhoods along with working-class areas of North Lake County, has been one of the most Democratic districts represented by a Republican.
Democrats were buoyed by the fact that 63 percent of voters in the redrawn 10th voted for Obama in 2008. While acknowledging the remap presented challenges, Dold aides noted that Republican Sen. Mark Kirk, who represented the district for a decade before running for the Senate seat, beat Democrat Alexi Giannoulias 54 percent to 42 percent in 2010.
Seeking to win a district that hasn’t reliably backed one party or the other, both candidates cast themselves as small businessmen willing to compromise on policy. Each candidate tried to convince voters the other was a ideologue unwilling to buck his party.
Schneider’s staffers felt a large district-wide turnout, stoked by a presidential race on the ticket, would work in their candidate’s favor, campaign manager Reed Adamson said.
Dold spokesman John McGovern said the campaign identified pockets of support and worked to ensure huge turnout there while trying to generate modest support in swaths of the district likely to go to Schneider.
While the candidates sometimes cultivated similar images, the differences between their campaign strategies were stark.
In the race’s final days, Dold cruised the district in a red, white and blue bus emblazoned with his name, blasting cheerful music. He kept a hectic public schedule, stopping to shake hands and pose for pictures at restaurants and factories, adopting a looser persona than the buttoned-up businessman of his previous campaign.
The bus tour replicated a tactic from Dold’s successful 2010 campaign.
“I think in the closing days of a campaign, it creates excitement, enthusiasm, energy,” McGovern said.
The week before the election, Dold publicized a video-recorded meeting with Kirk, who, like the candidate, has described himself as socially moderate and fiscally conservative. Dold has invoked Kirk’s name routinely, hoping to solidify his link to a man who carried the district five times.
Schneider was less visible, holding few events announced ahead of time until the weekend before the election.
Instead, Schneider’s campaign held house parties designed to sell individual voters on the candidate, Adamson said. The campaign would seek out a supporter to host and then ask that person to invite neighbors, sometimes including specific voters the campaign believed — from research by phone or in-person — to be undecided, Adamson said.
That strategy was designed to create “raving fans” who would tell others about Schneider, Adamson said.
The campaign turned increasingly negative since Labor Day.
Schneider pushed the notion that Dold’s voting record marked him as a conservative, a tack tried in past campaigns against Kirk.
Schneider's campaign and its surrogates hammered Dold for votes on which he stood with more vocally conservative politicians such as 8th District Rep. Joe Walsh. One example offered was Dold's votes for budgets proposed by Vice Presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan. The budgets, which didn’t pass, contained proposals to overhaul Medicare to include private insurance.
Schneider’s campaign seized especially on the Medicare issue, airing an ad featuring footage of President Lyndon Johnson, who signed the program into law, and accusing Dold of voting “end the Medicare guarantee.”
Dold argued that Schneider mischaracterized his record and pointed to non-partisan analyses indicating he voted with his party less than most members of Congress. Dold said he believes in strengthening Medicare and favors a proposal that would implement a mix of private insurance and more traditional government coverage.
Adamson, Schneider’s campaign manager, argued Dold’s votes spoke for themselves, but McGovern said the Democratic bid to paint him as extreme was recycled from past 10th District campaigns.
“Over the last 12 years, the Democrats have essentially run the same campaign based on a cookie-cutter strategy developed in Washington that fails to appreciate the unique aspects and independent voters of the district,” McGovern said.
While defending his record, Dold relentlessly reminded voters of questions about Schneider’s recent career history. Schneider ran largely on his business experience, but records showed that his two firms took in no revenue since 2010, giving rise to claims that his businessman persona was a sham. The National Republican Congressional Committee aimed to keep the topic on voters’ minds with expensive TV ads.
Schneider countered that the prior career successes of he and his wife, Julie Dann, a managing director at Mesirow Financial, allowed him to be picky about business opportunities. He also noted that he was campaigning much of the time.
Adamson said he felt voters, particularly those who understand investments and consulting, saw the attacks as bogus.
“I think a lot of the business folks…were a little taken aback,” he said.
Dold jabbed at Schneider over his failure to release his tax returns after the incumbent released several years' worth. Schneider said sufficient information about his finances was included in his mandatory candidate disclosure forms and his wife's privacy would be sacrificed if he released their joint returns.
One area where the campaigns shared ground was the use of individually targeted phone calls and other contacts to inform and persuade voters and ensure turnout among their supporters. Both campaigns pushed early voting.