EDISON PARK — Candidates usually wait until the embers from Labor Day barbecues have been doused to start trading charges and countercharges and flooding mailboxes with glossy fliers.
But the battle to control the only Chicago seat in the Illinois General Assembly held by a Republican is already raging, with both candidates working overtime to win a race seen by both sides as one that could tip the balance of power in Springfield.
State Rep. Michael McAuliffe (R-O'Hare) — who is the only Chicago Republican in the Illinois General Assembly — is seeking an 11th term representing the district that includes parts of the 41st Ward along with several suburbs northwest of the city, including Park Ridge and Des Plaines.
But to hang on to the seat that he has held since 1996, McAuliffe will have to defeat anti-O'Hare noise activist Merry Marwig, who will have the support of the Illinois Democratic Party and unions determined deal Gov. Bruce Rauner a blow.
Politico Illinois considers McAuliffe's seat "highly vulnerable in November with [Republican presidential nominee] Donald Trump at the top of the ticket" in a state where Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton is leading by nearly 20 percentage points.
Fliers sent by candidates for the 20th Illinois House District. [DNAinfo/Heather Cherone]
Marwig has promised to "bring a fresh perspective to Springfield" if elected.
McAuliffe, who began airing a television commercial narrated by his wife, Kim, earlier this month, has been touting his work as an "independent" voice for the 20th House District, vowing to stand up to leaders of both parties.
But his campaign got at least $668,000 from the House Republican Organization between July 29 and Aug. 25, according to documents filed with the Illinois State Board of Elections.
Those contributions came after Rauner gave $5 million to the Illinois Republican Party, which in turn gave $2.8 million to the House Republican Organization, which is in charge of funding local races, election records show.
In addition, Illinois House GOP leader Jim Durkin gave McAuliffe's campaign approximately $70,000 between July 19 and Aug. 17, election records show.
McAuliffe's campaign has received at least another $57,000 since June 30, when he ended the most recent quarterly reporting period with $55,000 on hand after spending $26,000 between April 1 and June 30, election records show.
His campaign has paid for at least nine mailers sent to homes in the 20th District in recent weeks. They cover a variety of subjects, including McAuliffe's support for law enforcement officers, a sales-tax holiday for back-to-school supplies and insurance coverage for three-dimensional mammograms to detect breast cancer.
By comparison, Marwig had just $5,600 on hand as of June 30 after raising $3,125 and spending $2,105 between April 1 and June 30, according to election reports.
However, Marwig has gotten $58,000 in contributions from two organizations controlled by the Illinois Democratic Party in recent weeks, according to election reports. The state party has also directly paid for three mailers attacking McAuliffe.
One flier accuses McAuliffe of "protecting predators" by voting against a bill that would have given prosecutors more time to file charges in sex abuse cases. McAuliffe denies that, noting — on another flier — that he co-sponsored another bill that would have eliminated limits on when sex abuse charges could be filed.
The two other mailers accuse McAuliffe of falsely claiming to have served in the military.
Those claims are based on a September 2015 letter to the editors of several Illinois newspapers signed by McAuliffe. The letter was part of an effort to convince federal officials to increase staffing levels at Veterans Affairs hospitals.
The letter mistakenly said McAuliffe was a veteran. The error was made by a staff member, a spokesman for McAuliffe said. His office asked the newspapers that ran the letter to publish a correction when the error was discovered about a day later.
Marwig recently held a news conference flanked by veterans to denounce McAuliffe, calling his action "outrageous and disrespectful to those who wore the uniform of our country."
Supporters of McAuliffe, in turn, held an event to slam Marwig for "for actively engaging in deceptive campaign tactics and using veterans to advance her political agenda."
Unions affiliated with the Illinois Democratic Party are also expected to play a significant role in the race on behalf of Marwig.
Service Employees International Union State Council Executive Director Gerald Morrison has called the 20th District race "a top-tier target" for the union and its affiliates, which are determined to weaken the governor by adding to the Democratic majority led by House Speaker Michael Madigan.
Mailers sent out earlier this year by SEIU Healthcare of Illinois and Indiana pictures McAuliffe next to Rauner and asks whether they share the same "priorities." The union has repeatedly charged Rauner with trying to balance the state budget by cutting services for poor, elderly and sick residents.
A July poll paid for by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, another union critical of Rauner, pegged Rauner's approval rating at 35 percent, down 10 percentage points since April 2015.
Election Day is Nov. 8.
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