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Silence Is Golden For Hultgren's Re-Election Campaign

Incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Randy Hultgren, left, and Democratic challenger Jim Walz

Earlier this month, U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan held a conference call in which he told Republican members that he would no longer defend Donald Trump. The call came three days after Trump appeared in a 2005 video using lewd and insulting language about women.

The Speaker, concerned about losing the House, freed members to disavow Trump or embrace him -- whatever it took to get re-elected.

One member, Randy Hultgren of the 14th Illinois Congressional District, apparently decided it was best to say nothing. If you Google "Randy Hultgren" and "Donald Trump 2005 video," you won't find any articles in which Hultgren gives a comment.

The 14th District Representative is playing his cards well, according to Matt Streb, a political scientist at Northern Illinois University.

Credit Northern Illinois University
Matt Streb, political science professor

"I think Hultgren is in such a good position," Streb says, "that the last thing he wants to do is take a position on a controversial issue." Streb calls the election in the 14th a "low information" one, which allows Hultgren to get away with being silent when other Republicans can't.

Those other Republicans include Sen. Ron Johnson, of Wisconsin, who reiterated his support for Trump after the 2005 video went viral. Johnson is in a tough battle with Democrat Russ Feingold, and decided to play to the GOP base. We profiled this race earlier this week.

While Johnson goes all-in with Trump supporters, Hultgren is running out the clock, according to Streb. That's because Hultgren is in a safe district, and his opponent, Democrat Jim Walz, has practically no money.

Recent reports show Walz with $17,000 compared to Hultgren's $1.1 million. 

This chasm in fundraising between challengers and incumbents is the main theme of Congressional races in the WNIJ area.

"You can't win a race with $17,000," Streb says. "Incumbents have such an advantage monetarily."

If you're sick of hearing about money in politics, Streb suggests you look at it differently.

"From a campaign-finance standpoint, we are focused on getting money out of elections," he says. "The problem is, you're often hearing from one side -- and that's what I mean when I say we don't have enough money. Our challengers don't have enough money," Streb says, "which makes it difficult for them to run a credible campaign."

For Streb, as long as money is disclosed, voters benefit because they become more informed when both sides can afford to put out their message.

Republican challenger Tonia Khouri, left, faces incumbent Democratic U.S. Rep. Bill Foster

In the audio clip above, Streb also comments on the 11th District contest between incumbent Democratic U.S. Rep. Bill Foster and GOP challenger Tonia Khouri.

Tomorrow, Streb examines the Illinois U.S. Senate contest between Mark Kirk and Tammy Duckworth. Listen during Morning Edition, after our Perspective, at 6:52 and 8:52.

Good morning, Early Riser! Since 1997 I've been waking WNIJ listeners with the latest news, weather, and program information with the goal of seamlessly weaving this content into NPR's Morning Edition.
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