PI Original Ellyn Fortino Friday October 10th, 2014, 6:29pm

Election Preview: Foster, Senger Battle For The 11th Congressional District Seat

Progress Illinois previews the 11th congressional district race between incumbent Democrat Bill Foster and Republican challenger State Rep. Darlene Senger.

The race in Illinois' southwest suburban 11th congressional district is one of the key battles to watch in November's midterm election.

The contest pits incumbent Democratic Congressman Bill Foster against Republican State Rep. Darlene Senger, a three-term state lawmaker and a former Naperville City Council member. Naperville is the hometown of both candidates.

Foster, who was first elected to office in 2008 in Illinois' 14th congressional district, lost that seat to Tea Party-backed Republican Randy Hultgren in the 2010 midterm elections. Foster later ran in the remapped 11th congressional district in 2012 and defeated long-serving former Republican Congresswoman Judy Biggert.

In the November 2012 election, Illinois Democrats picked up four congressional seats, including the 11th district.

Dick Simpson, professor of political science at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said "Republicans are trying to rebalance and gain back seats, and they're getting extensive money from the National Republican Party," with a good chunk of the funding going into the 11th district race. The National Republican Party, Simpson said, is also focusing its attention on the competitive election battle in Illinois' north suburban 10th congressional district between incumbent Democrat Brad Schneider and former U.S. Rep. Bob Dold. Read more about that contest here.

The 11th congressional district race is tight, according to at least one recent poll.

A Capitol Fax/We Ask America poll conducted on September 30 showed Foster with a three-point lead over Senger, at 47 percent and 44 percent, respectively. Ten percent of the poll's respondents were undecided. The poll had a margin or error of plus or minus 3.2 percentage point.

"The real issue isn't the public opinion polls, which Foster will probably continue to lead just on name recognition and those kinds of factors as well, but whether or not particularly the Democrats can turn out their vote on election day," Simpson said. "This [11th congressional district] was originally a Republican area before the redistricting made it more Democratic, so if the Democrats show up on election day, they'll win by a small margin, and if they don't, they'll lose."

The Cook Political Report, meanwhile, rates the 2014 U.S. House race in Illinois' 11th congressional district, which includes parts of Will, DuPage, Kane, Kendall and Cook Counties, as "likely Democratic." The "likely" category means the race is "not competitive at this point," but it has the "potential to become engaged."

When it comes to campaign endorsements, Senger has landed support from the National Federation of Independent Business; the political action committee of the anti-abortion Illinois Federation for Right to Life; the Susan B. Anthony List, another anti-abortion organization; and the Eagle Forum, a conservative group founded by Phyllis Schlafly.

AFSCME Council 31, the Illinois AFL-CIO, Sierra Club and Alliance for Retired Americans are among the groups that endorse Foster.

The two top issues in the 11th congressional district race are jobs and the economy.

If elected to Congress, Senger would work to scale back "burdensome, unnecessary and unrealistic regulations" that hurt job growth, according to the Republican.

“We’ve created 25 percent more regulations since 2008 than we ever have in the history of our country,” Senger recently told the Kane County Chronicle. “It is doing nothing but stifling and choking off opportunities that we could put in place.”

Senger has cited the Affordable Care Act as one of the "stifling regulations" that have hindered job creation and economic growth.

In her opinion, President Barack Obama's signature health reform law "is not working and its implementation needs to stop to ensure that people are not losing healthcare coverage and that access to affordable care is a reality for all Americans," her campaign website reads.

On the topic of strengthening the economy, Foster told the newspaper that there is a “need to invest in advanced manufacturing technologies and training in order to prepare our children to compete in a global workforce."

The congressman has advocated for policies that boost manufacturing employment and the middle class. Foster, a scientist and businessman in high-tech manufacturing, is opposed to tax incentives that "encourage companies to ship American-jobs offshore,” his campaign website states.

Foster also supports raising the minimum wage. He has co-sponsored the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013, which would gradually raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 per hour over a two-year period.

Craig Belden, Foster's campaign manager, issued the following statement to Progress Illinois:

There is a clear difference in this election. Bill is a scientist and a businessman who built a manufacturing business from scratch before being elected to Congress. He understands the challenges facing hard-working Illinois families and has made them the number one focus of his work.

Bill is fighting to strengthen the middle class by raising the minimum wage, making mortgages and college education more affordable and creating good middle-class jobs right here. He's also fought for comprehensive immigration reform and Wall Street reform. 

Darlene Senger is a Springfield politician who cannot be trusted to look out for Illinois’ middle class. In Springfield she pushed an extreme agenda, opposing a woman's right to choose, earned an A- rating from the NRA and opposed marriage equality. Senger was recruited to run for Congress by Republicans who want to gut our nation’s safety net and provide tax cuts to the wealthy with a budget that would raise middle class taxes by $2,000 dollars.

Senger's campaign did not respond to Progress Illinois' request for comment on this story.

More hot topics

Immigration is another issue at play in the 11th congressional district, which is 22 percent Hispanic.

Foster is a supporter of comprehensive immigration reform with a streamlined path to citizenship for America’s more than 11 million undocumented immigrants. He has also pushed for a number of other pro-immigrant measures. The congressman introduced federal legislation designed to ensure that undocumented immigrants are not kept in the dark about their legal rights and has fought to end Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention quotas.

He also co-introduced a measure to crack down on “notarios,” or immigration consultants, who deliberately provide immigrants with deceitful services. Under the proposed legislation, those caught scheming to fraud immigrants would see stiffer fines, a possible jail sentence of up to 10 years, or both. Additionally, Foster has called on the Department of Defense to allow young undocumented immigrants known as DREAMers to enlist in the military if they so choose. The Democrat earned perfect marks on a 2014 National Immigration Scorecard put together by several national immigrant advocacy groups.

Senger believes immigration reform starts with a border security plan. She also favors an "overhaul [of] the visa system so that people from all walks of life can come to this great country fairly and legally, including many skilled workers," Senger wrote in a Daily Herald candidate questionnaire.

"After those two steps are in place there needs to be a serious debate about what a path to citizenship entails for people who are currently in the country illegally," Senger added.

As a state representative, Senger voted for the Illinois DREAM Act, which established a college scholarship program for undocumented youth. And Senger backed state legislation allowing driver's licenses to be granted to undocumented immigrants.

Simpson explained that Latinos, whose votes were particularly important nationally for President Barack Obama's re-election, "have become somewhat dissatisfied" with the president because he has not moved forward with executive action on immigration.

"I don't doubt that Foster and [incumbent Illinois Gov. Pat] Quinn will carry the Latino vote, but I don't know whether Latinos will show up because of the feeling that the Democratic Party really hasn't carried through on the agenda they want to see, particularly on immigration," Simpson said.

The two candidates, meanwhile, have sparred over tax matters.

Senger has specifically blasted Foster for sending out a taxpayer-paid mailer to constituents that reportedly stated, “When millionaires can pay a lower tax rate than middle class families, it’s bad for our economy, and it’s just plain wrong.”

"For one year, Bill Foster paid no income taxes and when he did, even as a multimillionaire, he paid less than middle class Illinois families. And now, he is using taxpayer dollars to denounce the same practice he engaged in without disclosing the facts to his constituents," Senger said last month. "The simple truth is Bill Foster is being deeply disingenuous and the voters of the 11th congressional district deserve better than a taxpayer-funded mail piece littered with misrepresentations."

During a joint appearance before the Chicago Tribune editorial board late last month, Foster confirmed that he paid no income taxes during the year in question. But that's because he was a candidate seeking political office at the time and had no salary to collect.

"What do you think the appropriate tax is on zero salary?" he stressed.

Simpson said Senger's attack on her opponent won't have much impact on voters unless her campaign turns the issue into an anti-Foster mailer or ad.

But on the whole, he added, "I don't think it will be enough to defeat Foster."

Foster and Senger will participate in an ABC 7 Chicago and League of Women Voters debate on October 18. The event will air on ABC 7 at 1 p.m. A WTTW candidate forum with Foster and Senger will take place on October 23, airing live at 7 p.m.

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