Veteran Republican Rep. Judy Biggert conceded defeat tonight to former Democratic Rep. Bill Foster in a west and southwest suburban congressional contest.
“It has been a long and hard-fought race, but tonight the voters have spoken. I have called Bill Foster and congratulated him on his victory," Biggert said in a statement.
Foster has 56 percent to 44 percent for Biggert, with 85 percent of the unofficial vote counted tonight.
Voters got their chance to weigh in following a long, expensive and often bitter campaign in which the two candidates took turns painting the other as an out-of-touch millionaire wrong on the key issues such as taxes, the economy and health care reform.
The new 11th District was drawn by Democrats to elect one of their own and the party counted on having home-state President Barack Obama at the top of the ticket.
But it was by no means a slam dunk. The district has almost half of Biggert’s old territory and Republicans carried it in 2010 contests for U.S. Senate and governor.
In the final days of the race, both campaigns acknowledged it was a dead heat. The deciding factor, they predicted, would be turnout and in which pockets of the district it was highest.
For Foster, that meant driving voters to the polls in the district’s two largest and most Democratic cities: Joliet and Aurora.
“We’ve fought a very aggressive campaign, and it’s been a close fight to the end,” said Foster campaign manager Patrick Brown. “But we expect to win with high turnout in the two key areas of Aurora and Joliet.”
For Biggert, high turnout in stretches of DuPage County that she has represented for the last 14 years was key. That includes much of affluent Naperville and Bolingbrook.
“We need a high turnout there,” said campaign manager Mike Lukach. “DuPage is Judy’s base.”
The difference maker, however, could be the district’s turf in Will County, including Joliet and parts of New Lenox and Plainfield.
“We want to break even in Will County, and if we do that I think Judy Biggert is going back to Congress,” Lukach said. “That’s what I’ll really be watching.”
Both campaigns said neither candidate started with much name recognition in that section of the district and targeted it with campaign events, mail pieces, phone calls and get-out-the-vote efforts.
Foster sought to appeal to the district’s Latino voters, who make up 22 percent of the 11th’s population and 41 percent of Aurora. Foster stressed his vote for — and Biggert’s vote against — the DREAM Act, legislation that would have provided young Latinos a path to citizenship.
Biggert portrayed herself as a reaonable moderate who did not vote for wasteful stimulus spending or health care reform she insisted would harm Medicare.
But the Hinsdale Republican’s re-election run got off to a shaky start in debates, including once instance when it took her 15 seconds to pose a question to Foster, who cleary was the aggressor in their three TV debates. Biggert, 75, shrugged off her stumbles as a product of her uneasiness with asking a negative question and launching attacks in what she called a “nasty” race, insisting, “I’m a nice person.”
That worldview didn’t stop Biggert, Foster and outside interest groups from running a plethora of negative television ads filled that bent the truth.
Biggert and Foster each repeatedly attacked the other for being a millionaire, neglecting to mention their own wealthy status.
Foster ripped Biggert for a $170,000 state pension, but failed to mention that was the total she had collected over a decade, not in one year.
Biggert ran ads blasting Foster for not paying income taxes, but failed to mention that Foster did not pay taxes because he was not working that year and did not earn enough money to do so.
Foster repeatedly harpooned Biggert for backing the budget of GOP vice presidential nominee Rep. Paul Ryan, which Foster claimed would cost seniors $6,400 extra per year. But the Naperville Democrat failed to mention that estimate was tied to an outdated version of the Republican budget and that under the new one future – not current – seniors would have the choice of whether to accept a subsidy under the system.
Biggert attacked Foster in an ad for laying off 60 workers 11 years ago at the Wisconsin theater lighting company he ran with his brother and soon after building new “lavish offices” afterwarrd. But her ad failed to mention that the company later hired back double the number of those post 9/11 layoffs and that the new office building was mostly manufacturing space.
Foster aired a last-minute TV ad seeking to refute those accusations. He paid for it by loaning his campaign $500,000, running up the total tab of checks he’s written to his congressional campaigns to $2.2 million.
Both Biggert and Foster managed to match each other in fundraising that remained very tight throughout the race, but Biggert began the election cycle with $400,000 in the bank and received $850,000 more in support from outside groups spending in the race. Foster said that disadvantage is what motivated him to sign off on the loan, so that he wouldn’t be “outgunned” on TV.
Lukach said Foster’s final surge in spending is what kept him up at night the most in the campaign’s final days while Brown said his biggest worry was a higher turnout in DuPage than other areas of the district.
Neither campaign manager suggested their candidate had any kind of a sizable lead, with Brown calling the race “deadlocked.” Lukach agreed, adding “it quite possibly could go to recount.”