Vice President Joe Biden pressed Illinois voters Wednesday to rally behind Democrats during the approaching election, calling each vote crucial to advancing the party's progress in health care, education and women's rights.
The vice president headlined a rally in suburban Vernon Hills in support of Democratic Congressman Brad Schneider, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin and Gov. Pat Quinn. Schneider is battling Republican Bob Dold to retain his 10th District seat.
Biden's stop is the latest evidence of the attention Illinois' close congressional races are receiving from national interests, including campaign donations and high-level visits. It follows an announcement that former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg would spend $1.9 million on television ads supporting Dold — by far the largest outside expenditure in the race so far.
Illinois Republicans are aiming to reinforce GOP control of the U.S. House by reversing their losses from 2012 in the state's congressional races, when they were nearly swept in every competitive race. Democrats currently outnumber Republicans 12-6 in the state's House delegation.
"If we lose more ground in the House, the very progress we're making is going to come to a screeching halt," Biden told hundreds packed into a community center. "Even if we win (the presidency) in 2016, we're starting back at square one. A lot of people's lives depend on this election."
Biden plans a return trip to Illinois next week, when he will stump in Rockford for Democratic Rep. Cheri Bustos in a rematch with her 2012 Republican opponent, pizza shop owner Bobby Schilling.
Schneider, of Deerfield, is seeking a second term. He faces a rematch from Dold of Kenilworth, for the seat held for a decade by now-U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, a Republican. Schneider won the 2012 race by slightly more than 1 percentage point, in a year when President Barack Obama topping the ticket was credited to boosted Democratic turnout.
In an off-year election, with a tight governor's race between Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn and Republican Bruce Rauner, Republicans feel they have a good shot at reclaiming Kirk's former seat.
Also competitive is the race in southern Illinois' 12th Congressional District, where Democratic first-term incumbent Bill Enyart faces 20-year Republican state lawmaker Mike Bost, and the 13th District in central Illinois, where Republican Rep. Rodney Davis faces former Madison County judge Ann Callis, a Democrat.
The Dold-Schneider race, which stretches along much of Chicago's wealthy northern suburbs, has quickly become one of the most expensive congressional contests. Records show Schneider has raked in about $4 million this cycle, compared to Dold's $2.9 million, with outside groups including Bloomberg's jumping in and spending millions on ads.
Both candidates have tilted toward the center and attempted to paint the other as partisan in an attempt to net moderate, independent voters who could swing the race either way. Dold supports abortion rights, as does Schneider. Both favor raising the federal minimum wage, and have made statements backing gun control — with Dold's support of what he calls "reasonable gun control restrictions" making him one of several moderate candidates on both sides of the aisle supported by Bloomberg's group.
Republicans dismissed Biden's visit Wednesday, saying Dold was spending his time getting to know voters in the district.
"Rather than spending his time with party bosses, Bob Dold is focused on listening to voters about the challenges they are facing and sharing his commitment to putting people ahead of politics," spokeswoman Danielle Hagen said.