Fanning the Flames: The Freedom Project Blog


Diving Down the Ballot

By Shawn Healy
Lost in the shuffle of this historic presidential contest are the contested races down the ballot, including races for Congress at the House and Senate level, where polling is suggesting a Democratic landslide not seen since Lyndon Johnson galloped to a blowout victory in 1964 with nearly two-thirds of each body in his reins. His Great Society programs were passed on the backs of this apparent mandate. I have asked many an audience this fall to name the Republican opponent of Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, the Senate's Majority Whip, who is running for a third term this November. Most respond with blank looks, and I follow with the answer: Dr. Steve Sauerberg. "Who?" inevitably echoes through the room.

I'm not going out on much of a limb to suggest that Durbin's return is all but inevitable, but there are a number of local House races that remain competitive, including Dan Seals' bid to upset Republican incumbent Mark Kirk in the 10th Illinois Congressional District, and the clash for Congressman Weller's vacant seat in the 11th District to our south between Republican businessman Marty Ozinga and Democratic state senator Debbie Halvorson. These outcomes, and many others across the nation, will go a long way in determining the ease by which President Obama will enact his ambitious agenda, or the strength of the opposition to President McCain's vision for America.

The outcome of several senate races outside of Illinois will yield a Democratic majority somewhere in the neighborhood of 60 seats to the Republican's 40, give or take one or two in either direction. Sixty is the magic number for Democrats, as they would have a filibuster-proof majority to basically steamroll their agenda over a powerless Republican minority. The contest in Minnesota between incumbent Republican Senator Norm Coleman and Democratic challenger, and former comedian Al Franken is one of many to eyeball as the results trickle in next Tuesday.

Unfortunately, media coverage focuses excessively on the race atop the ticket, and this blog is complicit on this count, too. Our Senate race in Illinois is not competitive and has thus been all-but-ignored by local and state media outlets. The Chicagoland area encompasses 14 different congressional districts. A handful of these races are competitive (including the two referenced above) and are afforded some ink in daily newspapers, but most are ignored given the time and resources necessary to covering each of these contests. We are left to sift through the ads interspersed on our nightly television programs, run mostly by incumbents who have war chests their challengers simply can't match.

Taken together, we enter the final stretch of this election fairly informed about our choices for president, but woefully ill-prepared as we move down the ballot. While the media certainly deserves credit for the former, any blame they rightly receive for the latter is misplaced at this stage of the game. It is up to us as citizens to actively seek this information. I recommend visiting Project Vote Smart, along with the League of Women Voters, for candidate responses to questionnaires administered by these organizations. Visits to the candidate web sites themselves are also helpful. Newspapers' scant coverage of the down ballot candidates are often cataloged on their web sites, along with their endorsements in each of these races.

I'll return on Thursday with a look at the referenda on the ballot in Illinois and several other key states across the country, including whether we should call another constitutional convention in the Prairie State. Until then, I encourage you to seek out facts that will better prepare you for your foremost role as citizen next Tuesday, that of serving as an informed voter.


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Managing Director

McCormick Freedom Project

Shawn is responsible for overseeing and managing the operations associated with the McCormick Freedom Project. Additionally, he serves as the in house content expert and voice of museum through public speaking and original scholarship. Before joining the Freedom Project, he taught American Government, Economics, American History, and Chicago History at Community High School in West Chicago, IL and Sheboygan North High School in Wisconsin.

Shawn is a doctoral candidate within the Political Science Department at the University of Illinois at Chicago where he received his MA in Political Science. He is a 2001 James Madison Fellow from the State of Wisconsin and holds a bachelor's degree in Political Science, History, and Secondary Education from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

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About Fanning the Flames and the McCormick Freedom Project

Fanning the Flames is a blog of the McCormick Freedom Project, which was started in 2006 by museum managing director Shawn Healy. The blog highlights the news of the day, in hopes of engaging readers in dialogue about freedom issues. Any views or opinions expressed on this blog represent those of the writers alone and do not represent an official opinion of the McCormick Freedom Project.

Founded in 2005, the McCormick Freedom Project is part of the McCormick Foundation. The Freedom Project’s mission is to enable informed and engaged participation in our democracy by demonstrating the relevance of the First Amendment and the role it plays in the ongoing struggle to define and defend freedom. The museum offers programs and resources for teachers, students, and the general public.

First Amendment journalism initiative

The Freedom Project recently launched a new reporting initiative with professional journalists Tim McNulty and Jamie Loo. The goal is to expand and promote the benefits of lifelong civic engagement among citizens of all ages, through original reporting, commentary and news aggregation on First Amendment and freedom issues. Please visit the McCormick Freedom Project's news Web site, The Post-Exchange at

Dave Anderson
Vice President of Civic Programs
McCormick Foundation

Tim McNulty
Senior Journalist
McCormick Freedom Project

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