Withstanding Sharp Criticism From Progressives, Brad Schneider Wins Illinois House Primary

March 21, 2012 1:49 a.m.

After being branded as a “Blue Dog” and drawing attacks for his previous associations with the Republican party, management consultant Brad Schneider has been vindicated by the voters, surviving a formidable primary challenge on Tuesday from 25-year-old former community organizer Ilya Sheyman to win the Democratic party’s nomination in Illinois’s 10th Congressional District.While there were two other candidates vying for the nomination — Vivek Bavda and John Tree — the race emerged as a head-to-head contest between the establishment-backed Schneider and the grassroots-oriented Sheyman. Schneider finished with 47 percent of the vote to Sheyman’s 39 percent. Neither of the two other candidates eclipsed 10 percent.

Schneider, who will now face freshman Rep. Robert Dold (R-IL10) in the general election, weathered an extremely contentious campaign, throughout which he was sharply criticized for contributing to Republican candidates and pulling ballots in GOP primaries. But the Schneider campaign took exception to the “Blue Dog” label, insisting that he has no interest in joining the caucus of conservative House Democrats and arguing repeatedly that he is as progressive as Sheyman.

Sheyman’s candidacy was propped up by staunch support from liberal outfits such as MoveOn and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC). Both groups were especially vocal in criticizing Schneider, with MoveOn even launching a website entitled “Schneider the Republican.” Joanna Klonsky, communications director for Sheyman’s campaign, believes that it will not be difficult for the party to unify, even after so many harsh criticisms were levied at Schneider.

“Ilya has given his strong commitment to join Brad Schneider to defeat Robert Dold in November,” Klonsky told TPM. “That will be our top priority going forward.”

Ultimately, Democratic primary voters opted for the candidate viewed by many party insiders as the safer choice. While the party establishment clearly preferred Schneider, who won the endorsement of prominent Democrats such as Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) among others, Sheyman was dogged with questions about his viability in a general election. A Democratic strategist told TPM earlier this week that voters in the suburban Chicago district would not coalesce behind “a 25-year-old with no life experiences.”

Electability is an understandable concern for Democrats in the 10th Congressional District. While the redrawn Congressional map is extremely favorable for the party statewide, a Democrat hasn’t represented the 10th district in 32 years. Klonsky said every Democrat in the race is now motivated to end that drought.

“I think that all the candidates in this primary, whether it’s Brad, Ilya, Vivek or John, are eager to take back this district for Democrats,” Klonsky said. “Now is the time for us to unite to take back the House together and take back this seat together.”

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) was publicly neutral during the primary contest, but the committee has eyed the district as a legitimate opportunity to pick up a seat in its effort to reclaim the House. Dold is viewed as one of the most vulnerable incumbents this election cycle.

Schneider’s campaign did not respond to TPM’s request for comment.

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