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Illinois longshots in November don't give up hope

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 12, 2010 - The odds may be against them, but if enthusiasm and conviction could be converted directly into votes, two candidates challenging sitting members of Congress from Metro East in next month's election might turn what many observers consider foregone conclusions into squeakers.

The long-shot challengers -- Teri Newman and Tim Bagwell -- are working to defeat incumbents who have been in Washington far longer than one term, which may be the easiest time to defeat a sitting officeholder.

But this year's political climate, marked by Tea Party rallies and a high degree of fervor on both sides, plus the democratizing influence of social media may give congressional hopefuls more hope than they usually have.

Teri Newman, Republican in Illinois' 12th District, challenging Rep. Jerry Costello

Even though she doesn't reside in the district represented by Jerry Costello and instead lives over the line in Highland, Teri Newman  never considered challenging her own congressman, Republican John Shimkus.

"Taking out Shimkus would have been a zero-sum game," Newman said. "We need more Republicans in the House. So I looked for the softest target I could find. I did research to find someone who in my opinion was a bad guy and a bad representative, and Jerry Costello was right next door.

"By the time they finish redistricting, I probably will be in the district. It's not like I live in Chicago. It's three or four miles to the district, and the job is in Washington anyway. It's not like people have to come to me; I'll come to them."

On her website, she paints Costello as part of a triumvirate -- Costello-Pelosi-Obama -- that she says represent everything that is wrong with Washington and what spurred her to run in the first place.

"I thought if I didn't," Newman says, "I would end up spending my golden years in fear of my government, and my nieces and nephews would end up in the land of entitlement instead of the land of opportunity."

Her mother's family is from Illinois, and though she grew up in Florida, she returned to Illinois in 2005 when her husband's job was transferred to Scott Air Force Base. When the Tea Party movement began, she felt a sense of fate, because she says the original Tea Party was sparked on Sept. 16, 1773, and Sept. 16 is her birthday too (though, she quickly adds, quite a few years later).

"I'm a Tea Party baby," Newman said. "There are a tremendous amount of people in this country who are furious at the government at this time. This country has taken huge strides toward socialism in the past 20 years. Then, when times got bad, people reared back and said, holy moly, look at what's happening to our country. This is wrong."

A wedding planner, Newman said she has put about $75,000 of her own money into her campaign -- "I've got some skin in the game," she says -- and expects to raise $25,000 from others. She said she runs into people all the time who are unhappy with the incumbent.

"I walk up to people and say, 'Hi, I'm running against Jerry Costello,' and they say, 'I'll vote for you.' I say, 'Don't you want to know my name?' and they say, 'I don't care about your name, I would vote for a ham sandwich before I would vote for Jerry Costello.' He's amazingly unpopular."

Newman said she has met her opponent only once. "I shook his hand, counted my rings and kept walking."

Tim Bagwell, Democrat in Illinois' 19th District, challenging Rep. John Shimkus

In his race to unseat John Shimkus, Tim Bagwell of Olney says he is counting on two things to spur him to victory: low turnout among Republicans and an anti-incumbency mood in general.

This is his second run against Shimkus, after an unsuccessful campaign in 2004, so he's not surprised at how difficult it is to get his message across in a crowded political season, including high-profile races for governor and senator from Illinois.

But, he says, Shimkus' record can help make the case to vote Bagwell.

"There are a number of organizations that are not satisfied with his work anymore," he said. "His district didn't go Tea Party. He's actually worked against the Tea Party in other parts of the country. I think he's going to find out he has more to be concerned about than he thinks."

Bagwell noted that the sprawling 19th District is the third-largest east of the Mississippi River, actually larger than nine entire states. With no dominant newspaper or radio or TV station, it's not easy to reach voters, particularly when their attention may be focused elsewhere.

"You want to do what every other campaign does," he said. "But a candidate like Russ Carnahan can be at the next campaign stop in 30 minutes. It takes me two hours to get there, so I can only do one event a day."

Still, Bagwell -- who has a Ph.D. in public policy from Saint Louis University along with degrees in history, political science and speech communication and works as an IT project manager -- hopes he will be able to break through with his messages about how to fix health care and the economy, including badly needed jobs.

"The spending that is going on with road construction is all well and good," he says, "but it has to be tied to U.S.-made steel. Any item manufactured that is essential to the health, security and safety of the United States has to be made in the U.S.A."

Dale Singer began his career in professional journalism in 1969 by talking his way into a summer vacation replacement job at the now-defunct United Press International bureau in St. Louis; he later joined UPI full-time in 1972. Eight years later, he moved to the Post-Dispatch, where for the next 28-plus years he was a business reporter and editor, a Metro reporter specializing in education, assistant editor of the Editorial Page for 10 years and finally news editor of the newspaper's website. In September of 2008, he joined the staff of the Beacon, where he reported primarily on education. In addition to practicing journalism, Dale has been an adjunct professor at University College at Washington U. He and his wife live in west St. Louis County with their spoiled Bichon, Teddy. They have two adult daughters, who have followed them into the word business as a communications manager and a website editor, and three grandchildren. Dale reported for St. Louis Public Radio from 2013 to 2016.

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