Illinois voters casting ballots in Tuesday's primary election will determine the matchup for the state's only open seat for the U.S. House, solidify who will face a tea party firebrand and potentially end the careers of two longtime congressmen.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. and Republican U.S. Rep. Don Manzullo are locked in the toughest primary battles of their lives, and a new Illinois congressional map, which dramatically reshapes partisan territory, has added to the intensity.
Meanwhile, a primary contest in Chicago's suburbs sets the stage for who runs against outspoken Republican U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh in November, and another election in the southern half of the state determines candidates in the race to replace retiring Democratic U.S. Rep. Jerry Costello.
Democrats say they could gain as many as five new seats in Illinois, pushing them closer to regaining the U.S. House. But Republicans say they're poised to pick up a seat in the southern half of the state in November and can successfully defend challenges to the five GOP congressmen who won in 2010 during a Republican surge in Illinois.
Republicans will lose at least one congressman because the state lost a congressional seat in the remap _ from 19 to 18 _ and there's an incumbent matchup in north-central Illinois.
Manzullo, who has served 10 terms, is locked in a tight race with freshman U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, a former Air Force pilot who was among the five GOP freshmen elected two years ago.
Kinzinger's old district was split in the remap, which was handled by Democrats and carves out territory in their favor. He decided to run against Manzullo, who is currently serving in the 16th Congressional District. The district is one of Illinois' most conservative pockets, curving from the Wisconsin border to the Indiana line and including farms, far flung Chicago suburbs and manufacturing communities.
No Democrats are running, so Tuesday's winner is almost certainly headed back to Washington.
The election could also disrupt the long congressional career of Jackson, who first won office in 1995 and has won each election since with an overwhelming majority. The son of the civil rights activist has mounted an aggressive primary fight with former one-term U.S. Rep. Debbie Halvorson as she has made questions about his ethics central to her campaign. While he has denied any wrongdoing, the House Ethics Committee is investigating Jackson's ties to imprisoned ex-Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
In southern half of the state, two Democrats and three Republicans are on the ballot in the race to replace Costello, whose tenure is the longest of any Democrat in Illinois' congressional delegation. Costello announced last October that he wouldn't seek another term.
Republicans see it is an opportunity to flip the seat into the GOP column in the district that runs from Illinois suburbs of St. Louis to the state's southernmost tip.
Another heated primary is under way in Chicago's northwest suburbs where Iraq war veteran Tammy Duckworth and former Illinois deputy treasurer Raja Krishnamoorthi are squaring off. The winner faces Walsh, who has been in the spotlight for criticizing President Barack Obama.
Sophia Tareen can be reached at http://twitter.com/sophiatareen