PI Original Ellyn Fortino Friday January 22nd, 2016, 6:10pm

Election Preview: Democratic Primary Race Heats Up In 8th Congressional District

Progress Illinois talks with the two leading candidates running in the 8th congressional district's Democratic primary race.

The gloves are off between the two leading candidates vying for the Democratic nomination in Illinois' 8th congressional district.

State Sen. Mike Noland of Elgin took jabs Friday at his top opponent, saying in an interview with Progress Illinois that businessman and former Illinois deputy treasurer Raja Krishnamoorthi of Schaumburg is "beholden" to "party leadership." Krishnamoorthi returned fire, claiming Noland is trying to turn attention away from his lack of a clear legislative agenda.

Krishnamoorthi and Noland are among the three Democrats seeking the 8th district seat being vacated by incumbent Tammy Duckworth, a Democrat who is running for U.S. Senate. Villa Park Village President Deb Bullwinkel is also running in the 8th district's Democratic primary. Her campaign did not respond to interview requests for this article. 

The 8th district race is heating up as endorsements keep rolling in for Krishnamoorthi and Noland, who are both running as progressive candidates.

In the latest round of endorsements this week, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) threw his weight behind Krishnamoorthi and former Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn backed Noland.

Noland, a U.S. Navy veteran who has served in the Illinois Senate since 2007, enjoys stronger union backing, including from AFSCME Council 31 and the Northwest Suburban Teachers Union Local 1211. He has the support of Illinois Senate President John Cullerton, among other current and former state lawmakers, and groups like Northside Democracy for America. 

Although Krishnamoorthi has fewer union endorsements, he has 17 federal lawmakers in addition to Durbin on his side. Among them, U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA,12) and Illinois Democratic U.S. Reps. Dan Lipinski (3rd), Luis Gutierrez (4th), Mike Quigley (5th), Danny Davis (7th) and Jan Schakowsky (9th). Groups such as the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare and Citizen Action/Illinois back Krishnamoorthi.

Weighing in on Durbin's endorsement of Krishnamoorthi, Noland questioned why "party leadership" would "choose someone with such little experience (and) somebody, quite frankly, who has already lost at least a congressional race and a statewide race."

"The only thing that I can imagine is that, you know, it must be something about the money," Noland added. 

In the 2012 Democratic primary in the 8th district, Krishnamoorthi went up against and was defeated by Duckworth, who is now seeking Republican Mark Kirk's Senate seat. Krishnamoorthi, who previously served as an Illinois Housing Development Authority member, also ran in the 2010 Democratic primary for comptroller. He ultimately lost to David Miller, who was defeated in the General Election by Republican Judy Baar Topinka. Krishnamoorthi is currently the president of Sivananthan Labs and Episolar, Inc., suburban-based companies that "develop and sell products for the national security and renewable energy industries," according to his campaign website.

Krishnamoorthi pushed back Friday against Noland's comments, noting in an interview with Progress Illinois that the state senator has lost legislative races in the past as well. 

Krishnamoorthi stressed that he is "not beholden to anybody," saying that his endorsements from former congressman and federal judge Abner Mikva, former Federal Communications Commission Chairman Newton Minow and other individuals who have been "independent voices within the party" prove that point.

"I think that Senator Noland, unfortunately, is resorting to attacks on fellow Democrats because he's not able to offer a clear vision for what needs to be done in Washington, D.C.," Krishnamoorthi said. "And I think Democrats and progressives will see through that, and they yearn for an honest, independent political voice. Someone like myself."

Illinois' 8th congressional district covers parts of Cook, DuPage and Kane counties. It stretches across the northwest suburbs of Arlington Heights, Elk Grove Village, Hanover Park, Hoffman Estates and several others.

Noland said he believes the race boils down to who has greater legislative experience and has shown the "ability to reach across the aisle and get things done."

"I think the contrasts are very clear, and that's the top issue for the people of this district," he said. "Do they want someone who ... not only has experience but also demonstrated a very clear ability to stand up to party leaders and to advance the true interests of the people, and not someone who's going to be beholden to party leadership -- in this case Mr. Krishnamoorthi, who's clearly going to be beholden to the beltway bunch."

"Ultimately, it's a question of experience and a question of capability," he added. "We can talk about education. We can talk about health care. We can talk about public safety, absolutely, those broader issues, but I think what it comes down to is: who do the voters trust most to be able to really make progress in those areas?"

Noland later addressed some of the policy proposals he supports, including free community college and a single-payer health care system. He also spoke about wanting to work on a "light rail" transportation project for Chicago and the surrounding suburbs. 

For his part, Krishnamoorthi touted himself as the only candidate in the race with "both deep public and private sector experience" as well as a working families policy agenda in support of issues such as raising the federal minimum wage.

He sought to draw a contrast with Noland on public education and environmental issues.

"I am a very, very strong supporter of public education. Unlike my opponent, I oppose vouchers. I also believe that we have to avoid the privatization of public education. I think that it invites crony capitalism, which we've seen in, for instance, Chicago as of late and in other places," Krishnamoorthi said. "As somebody who runs a company that researches solar technology, again, I'm the one that's best positioned to speak about an alternative energy future and what that means for both a cleaner environment and a safer planet, but also increased prosperity and more jobs for people in the district" and the country.

In announcing her candidacy back in August, Bullwinkel touched on some of her legislative priorities.

"Every day, politicians in Congress zealously attack middle-class families and women. Whether it is fair wages and pay equity, economic opportunity for the middle class, paid family leave, or access to good health care and reproductive rights, extremist Republicans in Congress will fight any positive change," she said in her announcement. "If you're a working person, and especially if you're a woman, the assault never stops. I won't back down from that fight."

Krishnamoorthi, meanwhile, has a large campaign cash advantage over his 2016 primary opponents. At the close of the last quarter, which ended September 30, Krishnamoorthi had $945,832 in cash on hand, compared to Noland's $71,774. Bullwinkel had $38,954 in her campaign fund as of September 30. 

Noland claimed that most of Krishnamoorthi's campaign funding "is coming from northern California and from Lower Manhattan."* Krishnamoorthi's camp, however, said Noland's claims are false. Campaign finance records show Krishnamoorthi's campaign has received donations from across the district, the state and elsewhere.

"It's coming from other parts of the country," Noland said. "It's not coming from within the state and within the district. And what I am proud to report is that almost all of my contributions are from not only within the state, but within the district."

Noland went on to say that "our race is clearly one that has been true of almost all my races -- that they are a function of shoe leather over dollars."

Krishnamoorthi defended his campaign war chest.

"Unfortunately, in this day and age, you do have to raise the resources to win a congressional seat and to keep a congressional seat," Krishnamoorthi said. "And if you're not willing to put in the time to raise those resources, then you shouldn't bother playing in this game ... (Noland's) unwillingness or inability to be able to create a message that resonates with people enough that they would support him for this office financially and other ways should not be an excuse to attack fellow Democrats."

Common Ground

The two candidates did find some areas of common ground, including their opposition to the presidential candidacy of Republican Donald Trump.

Noland said Trump's frontrunner status in the Republican primary race has him "concerned" and "recognizing the need to put up a very strong candidate on the Democratic side to make sure he does not become president."

Krishnamoorthi added: "As the son of immigrants, I find his comments about immigration especially insulting, offensive. I find them to be completely at odds with what I believe most Americans feel."

Neither Krishnamoorthi nor Noland offered to say who they are supporting for president. 

Meanwhile, the two candidates were also united in their disapproval of the anti-union proposals being pushed by Republican Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner. 

"I personally strongly support the rights of men and women to collectively bargain and organize, and the governor has not realized that ... most Illinoisans agree with that position," Krishnamoorthi said. "Until he realizes that, I think he's going to continue to hold the state hostage, and we're gonna continue to go down a path that we can ill afford to pursue."

Noland blasted Rauner's union-weakening proposals as being "harmful" for the state.

"Quite frankly, the people don't send us down to Springfield to lower their standard of living," Noland said. "They usually send us down there to increase their standard of living, or at least their ability to make a living. And I think that his 'turnaround agenda' is basically serving largely corporate interests, private interests, who are friends of the governor, and I don't think they're all in the best interest of the people of the state of Illinois."

The primary election is March 15. DuPage County Board Member Peter "Pete" DiCianni of Elmhurst is running unopposed in the 8th district's Republican primary. Schaumburg High School teacher Bill Fraser plans to run as an Independent 8th district candidate in the General Election.

*This article has been updated to include clarification from the Krishnamoorthi campaign that most of his donations have not come "from northern California and Lower Manhattan" as claimed by Noland.

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