Financial disclosure reports filed by candidates in the 112th State House District portray a million-to-one contest, literally -- not figuratively.
However, a determined Dwight Kay, the underdog, is confident he can overcome financial odds to beat a vulnerable incumbent.
On a magnificent spring-like day Wednesday, Kay set out to meet some of the tens of thousands of registered voters in the district, a routine he plans to repeat until he's walked the entire district -- which spans all of Madison County and parts of St. Clair County -- at least twice before the November general election.
Kay, a Republican from Glen Carbon who is challenging Democratic incumbent State Rep. Jay Hoffman from Collinsville, said he plans to compete with his opponent on the issues, not with Hoffman's formidable war chest.
At the end of 2007, Hoffman had $734,924.71 cash on hand and $500,000 invested in the DuQuoin State Bank. By contrast, Kay had $3,189 on hand.
"I don't know how I could compete with that kind of money," he said.
A pretty big race
With less than eight months to go before the general election, Kay is starting to hammer out a message of fixing the broken state government.
Having railed on state lawmakers for creating gridlock -- the Illinois General Assembly had been in the longest overtime session in history over budget disputes -- Kay said issues just "keep getting greater."
"This will be a pretty big race," he said.
Kay, a vice president for Cassens Transport in Edwardsville, wants to cut frivolous spending, oppose tax increases, reform medical "welfare" and the state's pension crisis, and end the "Chicago Gravy Train" -- a barb at Hoffman who supported a bail-out of the city's bankrupt mass transit system.
He said he's not in the race to become a career politician. He wants to lend his budget management skills to clean up a messy state government.
"I don't like Springfield politics," he said. "That's why I'm running.
"There is a perception that our government does not work right and that it's (just) a good 'ole boys network."
As for raising funds to run a viable campaign, Kay said he would be "delighted" to have help from House Republicans who carefully hand-pick contests believed to be winnable. But beyond that he said he plans to do most fund-raising himself and will be beholden to "no one."
"I think I can raise money," he said. "I will raise it from people like you and me, from companies and from small businesses with the understanding that there are no paybacks with me. I have never worked that way."
Uphill for GOP
With a 67-51 Democrat-to-Republican balance in the State House, the state GOP could more than stand to gain a few seats. But so far in 2008, the party has not recruited candidates to challenge Democrats in most districts.
An analysis conducted by MedillReports in a March 4 post states that only nine out of 67 Democrats in the House face Republican challengers in November. By contrast, 15 out of 51 incumbent Republican house members will face Democratic challengers in November.
Conservative political observer Dan Proft, whose views are heard weekly on WLS Radio in Chicago, said the Republican Party in Illinois differs from its counterpart in that it lacks recruitment infrastructure and does not have much of a "farm team."
"Until and unless we re-launch the GOP brand in Illinois and re-establish a trust relationship with Illinois voters...we will continue to see the numbers of self-described Republicans decline and we will continue to get our brains beaten in at the polls," he said.
"No one wants to be a part of an organization that doesn't know who it is," he said, "that's the Illinois GOP right now."
Proft criticizes Republicans "who seek advancement by capitulating to Democrats and aiding them with their agenda," as well as Republicans "who think karaoking Reagan is enough."
"Both are wrong," he said.
"We need to apply the lessons of Reagan by painting in bold colors not pale pastels when it comes to offering market-oriented solutions ...that fall under the general categories of education, health care and the economy," he said.
Top tier race
Of the many challenges on the House Republican Organization's (HRO) radar, the Kay v. Hoffman contest has grabbed its attention.
Kevin Artl, HRO political director, said the organization is excited about Kay's candidacy.
"Dwight Kay is one of the races we will be closely watching and evaluating and we consider it our top tier of opportunities to defeat a Democrat," Artl said.
Artl said Kay represents the type of change needed in Illinois.
"In contrast to the Illinois Democrats record of job loss, high taxes and more government spending-voters will be able to count on Dwight to hold the line on taxes, control government spending and help create jobs and strengthen the economy," Artl said.
Another widely held perception that Hoffman's close relationship with the embattled Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich will hurt the incumbent in the general election, shapes the race as viable.
"Representative Hoffman has led Governor Blagojevich's agenda in the House, and it's just not a very popular agenda," Artl said. "Higher taxes, wasteful spending and more debt is what that agenda has yielded for Illinois families."
Currently serving his eighth term as state representative, Jay Hoffman enjoys the comforts of incumbency, such as key committee assignments. He is chairman of Transportation & Motor Vehicles and serves on the Committee of the Whole, Judiciary I - Civil Law, Labor and Railroad Safety.
He recently shared praise and limelight with Blagojevich when plans for a bridge spanning the Mississippi were announced in a joint press conference with Missouri Governor Matt Blunt.
Through each two-year election cycle, Hoffman has steadily fended off challenges hardly breaking a sweat.
But when this campaign intensifies, Hoffman, whose association with the increasingly unpopular Blagojevich (his approval rating has been reportedly close to 20 percent) and who is an "of counsel" attorney with the Lakin Law Firm (whose founder faces trial on morals charges), may have some explaining to do.
A March 11 report in Capitol Fax, which closely observes the politics of Springfield, stated that prosecutors in the Tony Rezko trial produced a list of top fund-raisers for Blagojevich. Hoffman is ranked fifth most productive "bundler" of campaign contributions on that list.
In a trial currently under way in Chicago, Rezko is accused of using his influence in Blagojevich's administration to appoint members to state boards, among other things. He is charged with fraud, attempted extortion and money laundering. Prosecutors say he profited from various deals or directed donations to his favorite candidates, including Blagojevich and U.S. Sen. Barack Obama.
According to Capitol Fax, an FBI analysis showed that Hoffman has helped raise $800,000 for Blagojevich -- more than $500,000 of that coming from trial lawyers.
The bundlers' list also reportedly shows how Hoffman's fund-raising for Blagojevich compared to other heavy producers:
* Milan Petrovich, $2 million
* Tony Rezko, $1.4 million
* Dick Mell, $1 million
* John Wynan, $1 million
* Hoffman, $800,000
* Jim DeLeo, $400,000
* Al Ronan, $400,000