Daniel Lipinski should have no trouble being re-elected to Congress, despite the prevailing anti-incumbent sentiment this election cycle, political analysts say.
Dick Simpson, a University of Illinois at Chicago professor who specializes in Chicago politics, said Lipinski, the representative from the 3rd Congressional District in Illinois for eight years, has strong name recognition in the district.
Bruno Behrend, director of the Center for School Reform at the Heartland Institute, a nonprofit public policy analysis organization based in Chicago, agreed that Lipinski is well known in his district. Behrend said Lipinski not only benefits from his own four-term tenure, but also from the fact that his father, William Lipinski, held the seat for many years before the younger Lipinski took over the job.
Simpson said Lipinski has a reputation for bringing federal money for local projects into the district, particularly for transportation. The district includes Burr Ridge, Western Springs, La Grange and La Grange Park.
Lipinski is a member of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, which secured $633 million for the Chicago Region and Environmental Transportation Efficiency rail program, a project that included repairing rail signals in La Grange.
Lipinski also helped to secure $700,000 in federal funds to restore the Stone Avenue Metra Station in La Grange, a project Metra officials say will be completed in September.
Both Behrend and Simpson said Lipinski stays out of the cross-hairs of the National Republican Congressional Committee and local Tea Party movements because he's one of the more conservative Democrats in Washington, and, his challenger Michael Bendas is a relative unknown.
"I just don't see this election being much of a challenge for him." Simpson said in a telephone interview.
Lipinski, 44, is being challenged by Bendas, a newcomer to Republican politics. Speaking to the Lyons Republican Township Organization this weekend, Bendas, a retired U.S. Army colonel, acknowledged his uphill battle. He said he has a name recognition problem as well as a funding problem.
According to the latest campaign finance reports filed with the Federal Election Commission, Lipinski has $569,510 in his war chest. Bendas has less than $1,500 cash on hand. Bendas said he has raised more money since that report was filed, but said it is no where near Lipinski's number. Lipinski's largest contributors are political action committees, primarily labor unions. Bendas said he will not take funding from PACs.
Simpson, a long-time political observer and a former Chicago alderman, said Bendas' lack of funding is a huge problem for his campaign. Without adequate money he will be unable to reach potential voters, Simpson said.
"Without money it's hard to wage a competitive campaign, no matter how strong your message may be," Behrend said.
With little funding, Bendas is crisscrossing the 3rd Congressional district, meeting with local Republican groups, preaching his message of fiscal responsibility.
"If we don't solve our fiscal problems we will not have a democracy in 10 years," Bendas said.
A West Point graduate, Bendas said public leaders cannot burden the nation with debt. He said in 10 years the national debt is projected to be $20 trillion, which threatens the nation's security.
One of the most contentious issues this election cycle is the health care reform bill passed in May. Lipinski gained national attention when he was one of 34 Democrats to oppose the bill, which was supported by the House leadership and President Barack Obama. Lipinski opposed the bill for several reasons, including worries that federal dollars would be used to fund abortions. Lipinski said the bill also fails to reduce health care costs for the majority of the people in the 3rd Congressional district.
Bendas, 63, said the bill does nothing to effect true reform and only serves to crush competition while increasing the federal government's control of health care. He said there are obvious problems with health insurance that should be addressed, including tort reform, plan portability, ability to choose health insurance plans across state lines, drug patent limitations and Medicare changes.
Bendas hopes Lipinski's vote against the health care bill will cause a backlash from the more liberal voters in the district and cause them to throw their support elsewhere.
Simpson, however, doesn't think that Lipinski's no-vote for the health care bill will hamper his chances, especially considering the strong support he's received in the district over the years. In 2008 Lipinski won 69 percent of the vote in his district and took all but one precinct in La Grange and La Grange Park.
Bendas, who ran unopposed in the Republican primary in February, said those numbers will be a difficult obstacle.
Bendas served eight years of active duty in the Army, then another 22 years in the Army Reserves. His final post in the Reserves was as brigade commander for all Reserve aviation operations. He now works as a business consultant specializing in streamlining companies' operations.
Bendas earned a master's degree in international relations from the University of Southern California.
After earning a doctorate in political science from Duke University, Lipinski served on the congressional staff of several members of Congress, including House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt and then-U.S. Representative for the 5th District, Rod Blagojevich.
Lipinski left politics in 2000 to teach at the University of Notre Dame and later, at the University of Tennessee. In 2004, he returned to Illinois politics when he was elected to Congress, succeeding his father, who resigned after winning the primary election and secured the younger Lipinski's name on the fall ballot in his stead.