(MCT) — Democratic congressional challengers sought the help of House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi at a downtown Chicago fundraiser Thursday while Republican incumbents sought to turn her visit into a warning about future control of the House.
With Illinois a key state for Democratic hopes of gaining the 25 seats the party needs to end the House GOP majority, Pelosi and Mayor Rahm Emanuel led a fundraising reception at Harry Caray's for six congressional contenders that cost $250 to $2,500 a person.
The closed-door visit by Pelosi, the former House speaker from California, marked the second time in less than a month that she has led a fundraising event at the restaurant on behalf of Democrats running in closely contested House races here.
As she entered the restaurant, Pelosi held aloft a baseball filled with autographs and explained, "Giants victory baseball" — a reference to this year's World Series champions from San Francisco in her home district. Inside, she told supporters it was a ball her son caught during the series, according to one attendee who was not authorized to speak about the event.
Republicans were more than willing to play ball with her visit, contending that Pelosi's decision to raise money was a sign that Democratic rivals would vote to return her to the speaker's chair if the GOP loses control of the House on Tuesday.
First-term Republican Rep. Robert Dold, challenged by Democrat Brad Schneider in the North Shore 10th Congressional District, and veteran GOP Rep. Judy Biggert, facing former Democratic Rep. Bill Foster in the far west and southwest suburban 11th District, each have held events with Republican Speaker John Boehner of Ohio.
"Brad Schneider is reflexively partisan, so it's no surprise that he's appearing with Nancy Pelosi in the closing days of the campaign to reinforce his support for higher taxes, bigger government and more Washington gridlock," said John McGovern, a Dold spokesman.
Biggert spokesman Gill Stevens said, "Foster's decision to hobnob with Nancy Pelosi … is a reminder to the voters of the 11th District that he'll put her marching orders over their best interests."
Foster's campaign countered by trying to tie Biggert to freshman GOP Rep. Joe Walsh, the tea party favorite who is attempting to win re-election against Democrat Tammy Duckworth in the northwest suburban 8th District. It's a tactic the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has used in a television ad.
For his part, Walsh held a news conference with Republican Rep. Joe Miller of Florida, who chairs the House Veterans Affairs Committee, to try to revive criticism of Duckworth's tenure at both the state and federal veterans affairs agencies.
Miller focused on the panel's ongoing investigation into the agency's spending on conferences and pointed to a 2011 event in Hawaii that Duckworth organized for the Golden Age Games, a sporting event for veterans that Republicans said cost $2.5 million.
Duckworth, who said she played no role in the decision where to host the event, called Walsh's criticism "disgusting," "sad" and "desperate."
She said her job has been "about serving veterans, and I think it's pretty cynical of two people who have never served in uniform to question my commitment."
Back in the North Shore race, Dold displayed a video endorsement from U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, the Illinois Republican who previously held the congressional seat. Kirk, who suffered a major stroke in January, could be seen talking to Dold, but the soundtrack for the video was an Allman Brothers Band tune.
Schneider, meanwhile, accused Dold of using taxpayer money on a congressional mailer touting jobs fairs he has held. Congressmen are barred from sending official mass mailings to more than 500 homes within 90 days of an election, but Dold's mailer was sent to fewer than 500 homes.
Schneider contended that Dold is "spending our taxpayer dollars on thinly veiled attempts to boost his campaign."