A Democrat has taken former Speaker of the House Denny Hastert's seat in a special election in a reliably Republican Illinois district.
In Illinois' 14th District, which stretches from the far western suburbs of Chicago to the Mississippi River, Bill Foster defeated Republican Jim Oberweis Saturday, winning 52 percent of the vote. Foster will serve out the remainder of Hastert's term.
Hastert announced his resignation from Congress in November 2007. In 2006, he was elected to his 11th term amid voter anger over the Mark Foley scandal. In the run-up to the 2006 election, it was learned that Hastert had known for some time that Florida Rep. Mark Foley had been sending inappropriate messages to a former House page. In the same election, Hastert lost the speaker's gavel to Nancy Pelosi as the Democrats gained control of the House.
Both parties spent heavily on Saturday's contest because of the likelihood that the result would be seen as a harbinger of the fall. The National Republican Congressional Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee each invested more than $1 million. In addition, John McCain campaigned for Oberweis and Barack Obama cut an ad for Foster. Prior to the vote, DCCC chairman Chris Van Hollen called the 14th a "rock-ribbed" Republican district and said a Foster win "would send a shock wave through the political system." After Foster's victory, the NRCC released a statement saying that "what happens today is not a bellwether of what happens this fall."
The 14th District is traditionally Republican. It gave 55 percent of its vote to George W. Bush in the 2004 presidential election. Hastert's 60 percent tally in 2006 was his slimmest margin of victory since his first run for Congress.