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14th District congressional race not appealing to the youth vote

by Jen Thomas
Oct 29, 2008


Photo courtesy of Bill Foster for Congress

Incumbent Bill Foster won a special election for the 14th District congressional seat in March.


Photo courtesy of Jim Oberweis for Congress

Jim Oberweis has sought five public seats in the last six years.

Related Links

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's Midwest Targeted RacesBill Foster for CongressJim Oberweis for Congress

On the Issues: The Economic Crisis

Oberweis: An outspoken critic of the Wall Street bailout plan, Oberweis has offered his own alternatives, which is intended to restore confidence in the financial machine. His plan calls for raising the limits on federal deposit insurance and supporting legislation that would allow companies to issue new stock that wouldn’t be subject to the capital gains tax when it was sold later.

His position on the economy puts securing a stable financial future as its top priority. “We need to cut taxes, and we need to reform the system. It's as simple as that,” his Web site reads. Oberweis also calls for cutting wasteful spending by making spending transparent, freezing discretionary spending at 2007 levels, and then prioritizing other spending and ending earmarks in the long term.

Foster: The incumbent’s plan to promote financial responsibility places investment in education, in small business assistance and on health care and other domestic priorities as its top concerns, in an effort “to strengthen us here at home.”

“I also believe that there is a strong moral aspect to the situation with the national debt. I believe that it is actively immoral to leave each of our children with tens of thousands of dollars of government debt, just because our generation wants to receive more government services and payments than we are willing to ourselves pay for,” Foster’s Web site reads.

Foster, in a Chicago Tribune story, defended his decision to support the $700 billion bailout by saying, “We are facing probably the greatest economic danger since the Great Depression. It is something that is affecting us all. It is not only Wall Street."

Even as western suburbs report an increase in young voter registration and candidates dedicate more precious campaign dollars to attracting the 18-to-30-year-old crowd, the enthusiasm from young voters in the 14th District may not extend beyond the presidential race.

“I just voted for the president because I didn’t know who anyone else was,” said Sam Clark, an 18-year-old from Batavia who voted early. “I don’t even know why I voted the way I did.”

In Kane County, young voter registration has skyrocketed. From the Feb. 5 primary to the closing of registration on Oct. 7, the number of registered 18-year-olds more than doubled, from 415 voters to 854.

In the 18-to-25-year-old demographic, the number of registered voters jumped from 4,962 before the primary to 22,419 after registration closed, said Jay Bennett Jr., the chief deputy clerk for Kane County.

The story is similar in Lee and DeKalb counties.

“I don’t have exact numbers but we see a lot of young people coming in to register,” said a spokeswoman for Lee County Clerk Nancy Nelson.

Congressional candidates U.S. Rep Bill Foster (D-Geneva), a Fermilab physicist, and Jim Oberweis, an investment fund manager and dairy magnate, are trying to capitalize on the sudden interest of the youth contingent.

“Younger people are energized,” said Shannon O’Brien, Foster’s communications director. “It looks like there is going to be a higher turnout than ever before.”

Both campaigns are targeting Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, where get out the vote and early voting initiatives have been in full swing.

“We’ve seen some active involvement from students,” said David From, a spokesman for the Oberweis campaign. “Things that affect everybody also affect young people.”

But for Clark, the push by local candidates goes unnoticed.

“Most young people don’t know issues. Most teenagers have better things to care about,” she said.

Ashley Jelen, 20, a college student from Elgin, said she doesn’t worry about the political issues and she doesn’t plan on voting.

“I’m just not that into it,” she said.

Boyd Ingemunson, president of the Kendall County Young Republicans, recognized the challenges of reaching out to a demographic that tends to overlook more local contests.

“The YouTube generation has so much going on, with Facebook, MySpace, the Internet,” Ingemunson, 35, said. "There's so much going on in kids lives that politics just isn't a priority."

Joel Robinson, 22, plans to vote, but the self-described anti-Republican might just vote based on party affiliation. He said he won’t vote based on issues because he isn’t aware of the candidates’ stances.

“What do I care about? There’s so much. There’s the economy, there’s the people starving, there’s the people losing their jobs. There’s too many,” Robinson said.

The Oberweis-Foster matchup is a repeat of a March special election that saw Foster edge out Oberweis 53-47 percent for a seat left vacant by former GOP House Speaker Dennis Hastert.

Earlier this month, Foster broke the record for the amount raised by a congressional candidate from the 14th District in one single quarter. The contest has been named a targeted race by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.