PI Original Ellyn Fortino Tuesday October 28th, 2014, 3:48pm

Election Preview: A Look At The 'Toss-Up' 12th Congressional District Race

Progress Illinois profiles the state's 12th congressional district race, which is considered to be a "toss-up."

The tight 12th congressional district race in southwestern Illinois is one of the most competitive U.S. House races in the state and the nation.

Democratic first-term incumbent U.S. Rep. Bill Enyart of Belleville, a retired attorney and adjutant general of the Illinois National Guard, is facing a tough November challenge from 10-term Republican State Rep. Mike Bost of Murphysboro. Bost is a former firefighter and Marine veteran.

Green Party candidate Paula Bradshaw of Carbondale is also vying for the 12th congressional seat for a second time. Bradshaw, an emergency room registered nurse, ran in the 12th district back in 2012, earning about 6 percent of the vote.

Bradshaw said she is "part of the resistance of corporate-occupied Washington, D.C."

Over recent decades, "We've seen a really bad assault upon our civil liberties, our environment and the people of the United States," she told Progress Illinois. "I'm running not just to hold the line, but to roll it back."

John Jackson, visiting professor at the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University, said there is a "huge possibility" that Bradshaw could tip the race to Bost. That's because the "second choice of Green Party and her voters would clearly be Enyart, not Bost," he said, adding that Bradshaw "got 6 percent last time, and she'll probably get five or six this time. And in a close race, that could easily be the difference."

The Cook Political Report, Real Clear Politics and the Rothenberg Political Report all call the 12th district race a toss-up between Bost and Enyart.

"The race is going to be a tight one," said Laura Taylor, the Enyart campaign's communications director. "We've got a really good ground game in place and an excellent field team out there working on team Enyart. Mr. Bost, our opponent, is obviously very well known throughout the district. He's been in Springfield for about 20 years. He's been elected 10 times. In the instance, that's going to be a tough race."

National party campaign committees and special interest groups have plowed massive amounts of cash into the up-in-the-air race. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee, for example, have each pumped more than $2 million into the contest thus far, according the Center for Responsive Politics.

The election battle in the 12th congressional district is one of only about 20 U.S. House races nationwide that are extremely competitive this election season, Jackson said. And as a result, "All of the PACs and all of the national party committees pull money in," he said.

"We've seen an enormous expenditure on both sides in this race," Jackson stressed.

In 2012, Enyart won election to the 12th district seat, which was previously held by longtime Democratic Congressman Jerry Costello who retired. The southwestern Illinois district runs along the Mississippi River, stretching from Alton in the north to Cairo in the south.

The historically Democratic district has seen the Democratic Party at the county, city and precinct level lose "ground steadily to the Republican Party," Jackson said.

"Particularly in presidential elections, the district's been voting more Republican," he said. "The movement has been in a pro-Republican direction, but I'm not at all clear that it's enough to overcome the traditional Democratic base. Of course, that is the question. I think it would take a Republican tide of some magnitude for Mike Bost to win ... I think it's probably not going to be big enough to carry Bost in, but it's not impossible that would happen."

The outcome of the race will ultimately depend on voter turnout, particularly turnout in the traditional democratic strongholds of Madison and St. Clair counties where the vote in the district is heavily distributed, Jackson explained.

Throughout his re-election campaign, Enyart has played up his "promises and performance" during his first term in office.

"I promised to serve our teachers, our coal miners, our seniors, our farmers, our veterans, our law enforcement officers, and more. I promised to fight for an increase to the minimum wage, for Medicare and Social Security and for common sense regulations that don't overstep federal boundaries," his campaign website states. "For the last 21 months in office, I'd like to think that I've done just that."

Enyart has tried to localize the race by discussing what he's done for the district, like protecting Scott Air Force Base as well as the southern Illinois coal industry and its workers.

In a recent interview with Tom Miller of News Radio WJPF, Enyart said, "I made some promises when I went to Washington, and I promised I would support Illinois coal."

"My performance on that, I happen to be the bipartisan co-chair of the Coal Caucus" in the House that works to protect the coal industry, he said.

In his role as Coal Caucus co-chair, Enyart has fiercely opposed President Barack Obama's executive order to impose limits on carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants, for example.

"Coal emissions are lower today than ever before, and companies right here in southern Illinois are working every day to ensure safe, clean, affordable power is delivered to your home without interruption," Enyart said in a June statement in response to a carbon rule announcement. "Instead of penalizing the coal industry, we must work to improve clean coal technology and bring costs down. As we do this, coal will become even more environmentally friendly."

During his campaign, Enyart has also touted his supportive record on agriculture and his involvement in passing the 2014 farm bill, which he has called a "bipartisan victory." Passage of the legislation in February marked the first time since 2008 that Congress approved a new farm bill. Enyart, who serves on the House's agriculture committee, has earned the endorsement of the Illinois Farm Bureau.

In addition to the Illinois Farm Bureau, Enyart has won support in his re-election bid from the United Mine Workers of America, the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, Senior Votes Count! and other groups.

Bost has landed endorsements from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Illinois Chamber PAC and the National Federation of Independent Businesses.

The state rep's congressional campaign, meanwhile, has been "entirely the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee playbook," Jackson said, adding that "you can take the same set of issues from virtually any Republican running in any congressional district in the U.S. It's the same list of things with lots of pictures of Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi featured in all the Bost commercials. And it's pretty generic."

Bost, whose campaign did not respond to an interview request, takes issue with the Affordable Care Act, for example, and is "strongly supportive of Congressional efforts to roll it back, and replacing it with commonsense, consumer-based ideas."

"Reining in government spending" is another pillar of Bost's platform.

"Bost has run against the deficit again and again, and that the budget's out of control and the deficit's out of control," Jackson said. "Pretty standard, like I said, from the RCCC playbook. It's been a significant part of his television commercials."

"It certainly plays well with a fair number of people," Jackson said of Bost's messaging. "Whether it's 51 percent of the district, I'm not quite sure yet."

Bost would be an agricultural advocate in Congress and is supportive of a "bipartisan" federal agenda on energy independence, his website states.

"Mike believes that America can and should be energy independent, and that a focus on exploration, innovation and technology are the keys to harnessing our own natural resources," his website adds. "As a leader in the Illinois State House, Mike was the chief negotiator for the Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Regulation Act in 2013, which will allow the state to expand and grow its energy production with the potential to creat[e] thousands of good, high paying jobs in southern Illinois."

Bradshaw, who is opposed to fracking, has focused her campaign on a federal "Green New Deal" to address poverty, unemployment and environmental devastation by putting people to work on environmentally sustainable and renewable energy projects. She compared it to President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal that came in response to the Great Recession and, among other things, provided funding for public works projects that helped increase employment opprotunities. 

"Turning to renewable energy in the Green New Deal would make it possible for us to stop the oil wars, which are so expensive in lives and money," she added. "The fight to control fossil fuel production, when we know that burning fossil fuels will destroy our ecosystem, is clearly deluded as well as immoral."

Bradshaw said nationalizing the Federal Reserve could be a way to fund Green New Deal projects.

"If we had a public bank that could spend money into circulation, instead of loan money into circulation, we could have the public bank paying people to do socially-necessary things, like the Green New Deal," she said. "The federal government could just issue money, not borrow it ... That's not inflationary because you are actually paying people for productive labor, and then with that money, it goes into circulation."

The Carbondale resident is also vehemently against any further coal extraction. 

"I have an advantage because I come from a coal-mining family, so they cannot convince me that coal miners like their jobs," she said. "I know what these 4,000 [Illinois] coal miners really want is good-paying jobs with benefits." 

"I think that most people, when given a choice between a well-paying job that helps the people without destroying the environment and a coal mining job, which is dangerous and destroys the environment, I think most people would choose the healthy job," Bradshaw added.

The Green Party candidate is also a proponent of single-payer health care and raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. Enyart supports a federal minimum wage increase to $10.10 an hour, up from the current $7.25.

Bost supports a bump in the federal minimum wage so that it is level with Illinois' base hourly wage of $8.25. The Republican has received some backlash for past comments in which he said a minimum wage hike "will actually hurt the middle class" because the cost of living would increase.

"The problem is the middle income wage earners are punished terribly when minimum wage is raised. Your buying power is reduced," the Republican has said.

Taylor said there is a clear distinction between Enyart, who is not a "professional politician," and his Republican opponent on the minimum wage issue.

"Mr. Bost, unfortunately, not only doesn't support an increase to the minimum wage, he actually wants to decrease Illinois' minimum wage a dollar an hour," she said. "In an interesting turn, just last week Mr. Bost ... (said) he does in fact now support an increase in the federal minimum wage, and that's in high contrast to what he's been saying this entire campaign. I think it's interesting to hear that in the 11th hour he's changed his mind."

The 12th district race, meanwhile, has seen quite a bit of political mudslinging.

Enyart's supporters have tried to paint Bost as hotheaded, dubbing the Republican "meltdown Mike" due to his infamous 2012 outburst on the state House floor over pension reform, which has been highlighted in anti-Bost TV ads.

Bost has tried to use his House-floor freakout, which involved him screaming and flinging a stack of papers into the air, to his advantage in his own TV campaign ad, in which the Republican says, "What the Chicago politicians and Gov. Quinn have done really made me mad. And what Bill Enyart and President Obama are doing to our country upsets me as well."

Jackson said Bost's strategy to embrace his rant plays well with the Republican base.

"It works with them because they hate Madigan and they hate Quinn, and that hate translates to Obama and Pelosi at the federal level," he said. "The only issue is will it be a good strategy with independents and any crossover voters? That I'm not so clear about. I think it raises at least some red flags for more neutral types."

For his part, Bost has characterized Enyart as being inattentive to his constituents while in Congress. The Republican's campaign has also nicknamed Enyart "Beltway Bill," claiming he is too often a reliable vote for national Democratic leaders. Enyart disputes that notion, saying he has a bipartisan voting record.

"He is the most bipartisan member of Congress from the Illinois delegation," Taylor said. "A lot of these negative attack ads come up and say that we are Nancy Pelosi's lapdog or (Enyart is) lockstep with President Obama. First of all, it's amazing that we even have that kind of influence. We didn't realize we did.

"But secondly, it's really important to look at the voting history, and most party-line elected officials vote with their party about 95, 97 percent of the time," Taylor continued. "The congressman's record, depending on which blog or tracker you look at, is somewhere between 85 and 88 percent. He's not only the most bipartisan member of the Illinois delegation, but he's rather bipartisan just across the board. And the reason that is, is because the congressman takes each issue individually rather than voting along the party ticket."

Taylor said there have been some instances in which the Democratic Party "hasn't been happy with us," pointing to the Obama administration's new regulations on carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants as an example.

Illinois' 12th congressional district is big on coal mining, Taylor noted, adding that about 40 percent of the state's energy also comes from coal-fired power plants.

"So when the administration comes out and says that the EPA needs some new guidelines for carbon-emission power plants, it's not that we don't agree that we need to have clean air and clean water. We, of course, agree with that," she said. "There is a factor that needs to be considered though, and that is that we need to find a balance between those two items."

Enyart's position on energy is an "all of the above" strategy, Taylor said.

"We certainly need to be more independent in our energy resources, but at the same time we certainly can't just shut something off that provides 40 percent of our power," she stressed.

Images: EnyartForIllinois.com/AP - Seth Perlman/AP - The Southern Illinoisan, Alan Rogers

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