The special election to fill the vacant seat of Republican former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert has erupted into a petri dish of rhetoric that will likely dominate the airwaves with themes echoing into the presidential general election. The median income in this district is around $58,000 a year. It has an unemployment rate of 7% and a population containing 10% veterans and 18% Hispanics. This area's demographic is similar to that of the crucial swing voters who will have the deciding vote on our next president.
Former scientist Bill Foster, who is endorsed by Barack Obama, and dairy farmer/investment banker Jim Oberweis, who is endorsed by John McCain, are the two candidates vying for Hastert's empty seat. The messages as well as the messengers in this race appear to offer a sneak peak into the fall campaigns. In fact, one of the more recent ads features Senator Obama saying, "You don't have to wait until November to vote for change."
Ad spending in the Chicago, Rockport and Davenport media markets so far totals more than $3.8 million. The ads have been evenly focused on a number of issues such as healthcare, retirement, the economy, illegal immigration and, of course, the war in Iraq. In one ad, Foster attacks Oberwies' position on the Iraq war by displaying children growing older as they discus Oberwies and George Bush's plan to keep troops in Iraq for 10 more years. Oberwies counters with an ad suggesting Foster wants to "raise a white flag and turn our backs on the troops."
On health care, Foster's ads say, "Washington stands in the way of children's health care and his plan can lower costs." Additionally, Foster's ads accuse Oberwies of supporting Bush's plan to privatize Social Security. Oberwies has countered with ads depicting Foster as an extreme tax-raising and big-spending liberal.
Another ad by Foster compares Washington spending to an ATM, suggesting the government allocates more money to pet projects than to issues such as health care. Oberwies counters with an ad featuring middle-class women worried that Foster and the Democrats will increase taxes regardless of the housing crisis and the rising cost of gas and food.
Further intensifying an already fierce battle, both the Democratic and Republican Parties, as well as 527 groups, have run ads trying to influence the race. The Republican ads suggest Foster will raise taxes, support government-sponsored health care, provide illegal immigrants with amnesty and cut and run from the war. The Democrats counter by accusing Oberwies of exporting American jobs to China and hypocritically hiring illegal aliens. SEIU added fuel to the fire with ads accusing Oberwies of planning to end employer-provided healthcare and saying Foster will stand up to the big insurance companies.
I do not want to imply that the winner of Saturday's special election will give us empirical evidence that one party will defeat the other in the fall. However, it will serve as a guide for what to expect in the near future. I think it would be useful for the Democratic and Republican message gurus to make a quick study of the swing voters in this district to find out which buttons best to push in the fall.
Check out all the spots yourself at TNSMI-CMAG's The Spot.
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Evan Tracey is the founder and chief operating officer of Campaign Media Analysis Group, a TNS Media Intelligence company. See his complete bio.