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Posted by on Mar 8, 2008 in Uncategorized | 15 comments

Obama’s Coattails – The Real Story Today

Senator Barack Obama’s convincing victory in the Wyoming caucuses is noteworthy for several reasons.

It’s one of the first western caucus states that Senator Hillary Clinton vigorously sought. She, Bill and Chelsea toured much of the state, and actually got there before Obama did. The demographics favored Obama, but without any polling there, nobody could assume that Obama would win so comfortably there again.

The win came after some narrow but significant losses in Ohio, Rhode Island and the primary portion of Texas. And it came after the worse press Obama has received up to now. The 61-38 victory – while not enough for the 8th pledged delegate (he needed 63% and Hillary’s campaigning may have saved her that delegate) – was in line with Obama’s pre-March 4th performance. Barack Obama has clearly regained whatever momentum he lost on March 4.

But a more important story was a special election held in the Illinois 14th Congressional District. This was Former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert’s old district, which he gave up for some lucrative post-Congress career. In the primary, two intriguing characters emerged. The Democrat, Bill Foster, was a nuclear physicist at Fermi National Accelerator Lab. The Republican, Jim Oberweis, was a dairy magnate who had run for Governor and Senator before and lost in primaries. Neither were establishment candidates within their parties.

The Illinois 14th has been Republican as long as anybody remembers. Ronald Reagan was born in this district – Dixon – and the major highway that runs through it – Interstate 88 – is named Ronald Reagan Highway (I know there are other Ronald Reagan Highways, but this one was the first and the biggest I believe). This was a classic Chicago collar county district that gave rise to Barry Goldwater in 1964 and bolstered Ronald Reagan in 1980. This is also my father-in-law’s district, and his extremely right-wing political views seem to fit in quite nicely there.

Or at least they once did. In the last 5 or 10 years, the district has started to change. More socially liberal people from Chicago’s inner suburbs started moving out there for the cheaper real estate. Latinos moved in to Elgin, Aurora and Carpentersville. And, perhaps most importantly, old-line Lincoln Republicans in wealthy Fox River towns like Geneva and St. Charles started to feel that the Republican Party had abandoned them. Bush won here comfortably both times. But there was a sense that this district could go blue some day. Not yet, mind you, but some day.

And now today, Bill Foster, the Democrat, has taken the Illinois 14th Congressional district. This historic pickup of Speaker Hastert’s district recalls Tom Foley’s embarrassing loss in 1994.

But even more important are the national implications.

John McCain and Barack Obama stumped in this district for their respective party candidates. Both Foster and Oberweis felt that their likely 2008 standard bearers would benefit them in this close race. Barack Obama appeared in a TV ad and endorsed Bill Foster as the kind of Democrat who can work across the aisle.

If there was ever going to be a coattail election check, this would be it. And Obama and Foster came through in flying colors, picking up a symbolically important Republican House district seat.

And so we have the first evidence of something many of Barack Obama’s supporters have long argued: he is not only more electable than Hillary Clinton, but he is attractive enough that red-leaning candidates in House and Senate races would love to have him campaign with them. If Obama is going to bring the sort of change he calls for, he’ll need a different House and Senate than he has.

What he’s shown tonight in Chicago’s formerly red Republican collar counties is that he can change the map for the Democrats. This, I think, is even more significant than the Wyoming caucus victory. Not only does Obama get a new superdelegate (Foster is now a Congressman), but Obama gets some electoral proof of the power of his candidacy for the party as a whole. And I can guarantee you that the political chattering class will pay attention to this.