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Metro East incumbents win as expected

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: November 5, 2008 - They voted in the metro-east Tuesday, but the campaign season had little of the fervor common in the "battleground" states around the nation. With more than half of the votes in, favorite son Barack Obama rolled up a large majority in Illinois, and incumbent U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin swamped his dentist opponent.

Both U.S. House members who represent parts of the metro-east were winning easily after a quiet campaign season with little sense of drama. Following the 2000 census, redistricting left Illinois with congressional districts that were notable for two things ---  their bizarre, crazy-quilt boundaries, and how thoroughly they protected their incumbents. As a result, Metro-East residents have had little to choose from in their Congressional delegation since then, and this year was no exception.

No change in Congress

U.S. Rep. Jerry Costello, D-Belleville, has one of the safest seats in the House in the 12th District, which takes in the strongly Democratic cities of the metro-east --- Belleville, Granite City, East St. Louis and Alton --- and then rambles southward to include the sparsely populated west half of southern Illinois. Costello is one of the more conservative Democrats in the House, opposing abortion and supporting balanced budgets.

Against two recent opponents, Costello racked up 69 percent of the vote. In early returns Tuesday, he had 70 percent against the Republican candidate, Timmy Jay Richardson Jr., 27, of Lebanon, who has served in the Navy and worked more recently as a defense contractor, dealing with communication systems.

Also winning easily, in the 19th District, was Rep. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, a reliable conservative who has maintained a low-key tenure -- except in October 2006, when he got dragged into the congressional page sex scandal involving former Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fla. Shimkus chaired the House committee supervising the pages and explained that as soon as he received e-mails hinting that something was going on, he called in Foley and told him to to cease all contact with the page in question. All that gained Shimkus were claims that he had gone too easy on his fellow Republican. Foley resigned, but it didn't seem to hurt Shimkus in the 2006 election, nor on Tuesday, when he was receiving 65 percent of the vote in nearly complete returns.

The district, the 19th, peels off a few metro-east communities including Collinsville and Edwardsville, jogs north to include parts of the Springfield area, and then sweeps to the east and the south to take in much of southern Illinois. Other cities include Mount Vernon and Centralia. This year, Shimkus faced Democratic hopeful Daniel Davis, 27, a native of Harrisburg who has worked on legislation at the Illinois Department of Public Health.

Durbin ran another low-key re-election campaign against Republican Steve Sauerberg, a Chicago-area dentist, and three minor party candidates. Durbin stayed busy campaigning for Obama, although he did agree to a couple of joint appearances with Sauerberg, one on radio and one on Chicago-area television. In early results, Durbin had 67 percent of the vote. 

Hoffman winning

One Illinois House contest had gained notoriety over its heavy use of bitter attack ads on St. Louis television. Longtime state Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Collinsville, an ally of Gov. Rod Blagojevich, was targeted by the Illinois Chamber of Commerce and state Republicans backing businessman Dwight Kay. Hoffman normally wins easily, but Kay's onslaught of ads such as one claiming Hoffman and Blagojevich "as thick as thieves" caused some concern. Hoffman fired back with an ad describing Kay as having demonstrated "sleazy behavior." The verbiage and barrage of ads were unusual for a state House race, but they weren't enough to bring about an upset. Hoffman had 57 percent of the vote with most votes counted.

Con-con losing big

Illinois voters were also asked to decide whether to hold a state constitutional convention. Supporters said the state had topics that need to be addressed, such as ethics requirements, term limits, campaign finance reform, open government and school funding reform. Opponents said the problem wasn't as much the system as the people running it and that a convention could waste millions of dollars. The opponents mounted something of a campaign but supporters were not much in evidence, and voters were rejecting the proposal almost 2-1 Tuesday night.

Carl Green is a freelance writer in Collinsville.