A grassroots campaign by Mark Kleine to unseat three-term incumbent U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-East Moline) is gaining steam thanks to $400,000 in donations during its first two months.
Kleine filed to run for Congress on Aug. 24 in a race that includes fellow Republicans Jon Schuh Jr. and Craig Cameron, plus write-in candidate William “Bill” Fawell, the Galesburg Register-Mail reported Oct. 10.
The donations total over $500,000 when Kleine’s own $100,000 gift is factored in, and the report said all but 10 percent of the money came from donors within the 17th District.
Mark Kleine, candidate for U.S. House of Representatives, 17th district | Campaign website
“I’m investing in my own campaign because I want to utilize my money to help people throughout the district,” Kleine told the Register-Mail.
Kleine is president of Kleine Cos. and is a partnership with his wife, Jeannette, in MAK Properties, the Register-Mail said.
The race for this seat will likely revolve around whether voters will back protection for entitlement programs, a popular Democratic Party agenda, or whether the electorate will make the state’s fiscal crisis, a stance favored by Republicans, a top priority.
The state’s financial hardship is undeniable. The state ranks No. 1 for its tax burden and faces a $111 billion unfunded pension liability, according to the Illinois Policy Institute. Organizations like Intersect Illinois and the Illinois Manufacturers' Association have suggested the state’s burdensome taxes and regulations may be pricing it out of reach for companies looking to relocate, according to Prairie State Wire.
However, one of Bustos’ campaign emails quoted on the Capitol Fax website, asks for a $5 donation to help Bustos overcome the Kleine threat and “stop Trump and the GOP from gutting Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.”
Bustos’ campaign website downplays the fiscal crisis in Illinois, mentioning it as one of many issues she seeks to address, along with jobs and small businesses, government accountability, and Medicare and Social Security.
In contrast, many Republican campaigns are making it a priority to address taxes, paying for pensions and reigning in government spending. Following the outsider theme that helped propel President Donald Trump to the White House, Kleine plays up the fact that he’s a businessman, not a political insider. According to Kleine's website, his mission is “to diversity the northwestern Illinois economy by cutting government spending and bringing good-paying, 21st-century jobs to the area.”
If fundraising is any indication, his campaign may be gaining traction as part of an anti-incumbent surge that is mostly benefitting Democrats nationwide. An Oct. 18 Roll Call report said that “nearly one year out from the 2018 midterms, challengers outraised nearly 30 percent of the incumbents in competitive races during the third quarter.”
Although it’s an unfortunate turn of events for 16 Republicans the article cites as being out-funded by their Democrat opponents, the anti-incumbent spirit seems to be resonating in Illinois, helping Kleine mount a credible challenge.
According to Roll Call, Kleine was only able to out-raise Bustos by using his own money.
All of this happened before the Republican tax bill was signed this month, so there may still be time for that to give the GOP a bump and the ballot box.