Illinois GOP Primary Duel Goes to Newcomer

Mar 21, 2012 1:17pm

In an unusual race showcasing two Republican incumbents battling each other for survival, freshman Rep. Adam Kinzinger defeated 10-term GOP incumbent Rep. Don Manzullo to win the Republican nomination for Illinois’ 16th congressional district.

With 99 percent reporting, Kinzinger, 34, won 55.9 percent of the vote to 44.1 percent for Manzullo, 67.

Kinzinger, a captain in the Air Force Reserves, says about 70 percent of his district was new after Illinois underwent a complicated redistricting process after the state lost a congressional seat. As a result, Kinzinger says he held 30 town hall events to get to know his prospective constituents.

“These folks came to our town hall meetings and said they were tired of the status quo; that they expected more for their kid’s and grandkid’s future; that they were ready for a fresh break from business as usual in Washington,” Kinzinger said in his victory speech. “Americans are looking for a new generation of leaders who are focused on bettering our country, rather than themselves; leaders who will reform Washington from the ground up and unequivocally place the people above politics.”

Manzullo had support from numerous Tea Party affiliated groups, but Kinzinger had a key endorsement from House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. The No. 2 Republican’s support represents a careful balance for leadership for member-on-member primary battles.  Some believe that while Kinzinger’s victory may be a win for Cantor, the impact is short-term and sends a message to the House Republican Conference that the person who aspires to become House Speaker someday is willing to work against them to serve his own interests.

Manzullo and Kinzinger aren’t the only member-on-member race this year resulting from redistricting.

On March 6, Ohio Democrat Marcy Kaptur knocked off eight-term Democratic incumbent Rep. Dennis Kucinich for the chance to keep the district blue in a race against Samuel “Joe the Plumber” Wurzelbacher, who won the Republican primary in that district.

As the primary season continues, the most contentious upcoming races of this kind are Democrat versus Democrat.

Pennsylvania Democratic Reps. Mark Critz and Democratic Rep. Jason Altmire have a primary battle April 24. California Democratic Reps. Howard Berman and Brad Sherman face off as do New Jersey Democrats Bill Pascrell and Steve Rothman on June 5.

So far, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi has avoided those intra-party skirmishes and sources close to the minority leader believe she is unlikely to get involved in any races pitting incumbents against each other.

One senior Democratic campaign aide points out that the few primaries Pelosi has engaged in are typically ones where a challenger enters the race to take on a sitting Democratic member. The exception to that was the leader’s support of Tammy Duckworth, who sources describe as a friend of Pelosi since her failed bid for the House in 2006. Duckworth, a disabled Iraq War veteran, won her primary easily and will take on Tea Party freshman Republican Joe Walsh in Illinois’ 8th district this fall.

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