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Democrat grabs Hastert’s House seat

Congress Hastert Seat
Former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert speaks to lawmakers on the Illinois House of Representatives on Wednesday. He was being honored by Illinois lawmakers for his many years of legislative service.Seth Perlman / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Democrat Bill Foster has snatched former House Speaker Dennis Hastert's congressional seat in a closely watched special election that gave the longtime Republican district to the Democrats.

Foster has won 52 percent of the vote compared to 48 percent for Republican Jim Oberweis with 556 of 568 precincts reporting.

Foster's special election win means he will fill the remainder of Hastert's term until it ends next January.

The 66-year-old Hastert, who lost his powerful post as speaker when Democrats took control of Congress, resigned late last year. Foster will fill the remainder of Hastert's term, which ends in January.

Another election for the seat will be held in November for a new, full term. Oberweis is the GOP candidate. Foster won a close Democratic primary, although one challenger has initiated a recount.

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama made a TV ad praising Foster; Oberweis had fundraising help from the apparent Republican nominee, John McCain, and Hastert's backing.

The district will have a rookie congressmen after years of enjoying Hastert's clout. During his 21 years in Washington, Hastert funneled millions of dollars to the district that stretches from Chicago's far western suburbs to almost the Mississippi River.

Hastert's is one of three open seats in Illinois this year because of GOP retirements.

Reps. Jerry Weller, who represents a district from the suburban sprawl south of Chicago to the farmland of central Illinois, and Ray LaHood of Peoria are also stepping down. Democrats' chances to pick up one of those seats improved when the Republican nominee to replace Weller dropped out of the race.

Besides poking at each other with negative TV ads, Foster and Oberweis clashed on issues from immigration and health care to the Iraq war.

During a recent TV appearance, Foster said he would be a "good vote in Congress to change President Bush's policy" on Iraq. Oberweis contended the troop surge there was working, saying: "Things are getting better in Iraq."

Oberweis also blasted Foster for being a proponent of big government because Foster says he wants to move toward universal health care. Foster claimed Oberweis' approach — he favors tax incentives to help people buy their own insurance — only works for people who are "healthy and wealthy."