For 10 years, Kirk fended off the Democrats in his liberal North Shore district. In 2008, Kirk’s district was one of three that elected a Republican congressman and gave President Obama more than 60 percent of its vote. The other two districts, in Delaware and Louisiana, are almost certain to elect Democrats this year.
It’s likely to happen in Illinois, too. Dan Seals, who failed in two attempts to unseat Kirk, is leading his Republican opponent, Bob Dold, and just picked up the endorsement of the Chicago Sun-Times, which noted that “the 10th District is by and large socially liberal, more conservative on economic issues and strongly supportive of Israel. Seals mirrors that demographic, being pro-choice, pro-business and pro-Israel.”
Seals also has the endorsement of Planned Parenthood, the Sierra Club and the Human Rights Campaign -- liberal groups that backed Kirk in the last two elections.
Despite the district’s liberal leanings, no Democrat has been elected there since Abner Mikva served two terms in the late 1970s. It’s an ancestrally Republican area, whose residents planted “Rockefeller for President” signs in their broad lawns and nodded in agreement to Chicago Tribune editorials.
Over the decades, the North Shore supported such progressive causes as temperance, women’s suffrage, the Equal Rights Amendment, and abortion rights -- the sort of outlook now found in the Democratic Party. Kirk survived because lifelong Republicans wanted to believe there was still room for liberalism in the party they’d grown up with.
(The district isn’t all North Shore. Its largest city is heavily Democratic Waukegan, which is more than half Latino.)
After his losses to Kirk, Seals was mocked as “Obama Lite,” because he was a bi-racial candidate who grew up in Hyde Park. (Interestingly, Mikva also moved to the North Shore from Hyde Park, after he was redistricted out of his congressional seat and was looking for another group of highly-educated, well-to-do voters to represent.) But Seals has moderated his views to fit the district: he now opposes ending President Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.
Democrats are in danger of losing three Congressmen in Illinois next month -- Phil Hare, Bill Foster and Debbie Halvorson all represent districts where Obama took less of the vote than he did in Kirk’s. It’s a testament to Kirk’s bipartisan appeal that he could hold onto a Democratic district for so long. But in a year when Republicans need to win every close race to take over Congress, the Senate’s gain could be the House’s loss.