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[John will be here to chat with everyone in the comments.  As always, with any of our Blue America threads, please stay on topic and be polite.  And please give a big FDL welcome to John! -- CHS] 

We've gotten to know a lot of progressive challengers this election cycle and, judging by the amounts of money we've donated, John Laesch has been one who has really connected with members of our community. I'm so happy he's decided to join us today for a look at the campaign that's just ended and for a little discussion about where we go from here. Where we go from here may be something that John has to look at a lot more quickly than any of our other candidates.

John's come a long, long way since we first met up with him last June. For one thing, he's come a lot closer to beating Denny Hastert than any other Democrats running for Congress in the 14th CD have. In 2002, Larry Quick took 26% of the vote. In 2004 Ruben Zamora took 31%. John just got 40%…on his first run for any office.

He also accomplished what no one else has; he forced Hastert to come back to the district to campaign and he forced Hastert to spend a great deal of money to keep from an embarrassing loss, money that could easily have been spent to help Republicans who lost in close races, like Rob Simmons, Mike Fitzpatrick or Ann Northup.

John increased Democratic vote counts in every single county in the district and, for the first time, even beat Hastert in one county, Whiteside (with 54% of the vote). In DeKalb County, where we ran our "Time To Throw Hastert Out" radio spots, John took 42% of the votes, a huge increase over past Democratic performances there.

It's hardly a secret and rumors are flying everywhere that Hastert would like to retire, not just from the GOP Leadership — which he has already announced — but from Congress entirely. Right now he will only say he's not running again in 2008.

One suburban Chicago paper put it bluntly: "Political watchers noted that leaders seldom stick around for long after moving from a vaunted position to a rank-and-file member…Republican strategist Gary Mack, who previously worked for Jim Edgar, said Hastert might step down early if it meant he could have a bigger role in picking his replacement. 'It's very easy to understand why a federal official third in line for the presidency wouldn't want to stick around and become a minion,' he said."

Republicans tend to get used to the perks and prerogatives of office and when they lose their leadership positions, they tend to bail entirely, Gingrich and DeLay being two very recent examples — and Hastert having been more used to "perks" than anyone else in memory.

Hastert, known as someone who could consume more sushi at a single sitting than any 3 of his colleagues, also has pretensions to being named ambassador to Japan.  Among the local Republicans salivating not over platters of sushi but over the chance to replace Hastert in Congress are state Representatives Tom Cross, Tim Schmitz, Patricia Reid Lindner and state Senator Chris Lauzen, as well as Kane County Board chairman Karen McConnaughay, former state Senator Steve Rauschenberger and former gubernatorial and U.S. Senate candidate Jim Oberweis. (There is also a good chance that Rahm Emanuel will try pushing John out of the way for a less grassroots oriented, less independent-minded, more…malleable candidate like state Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia.)

In the Chicago Sun Times, columnist Lynn Sweet points out that Hastert has two sons, a lawyer and, of course, a lobbyist, and Hastert would love to bequeath the seat to one of them.

Longtime and well-connected local Republican hack Tom Roeser gets to another big consideration: the bottom line.

It's pretty late at night and I'm not going to go into a lot of research but a rumor has been bubbling up that should be recorded… even if it's knocked down later as more information comes due. The rumor, substantiated by a number of people I've talked to who know the Denny Hastert people personally is this: Denny Hastert has determined to resign before his term as Speaker expires — for one reason only. When you step down as Speaker your pension is calculated on your level of pay and Speaker's pay is a lot more than that of an ordinary member of Congress. Somebody who's a lot fresher than I am at this hour of the night can check Denny's salary but I think it's in the neighborhood of, say, $200,000 plus."

And for Hastert, the bottom line has always been…the bottom line.

(Photo of John Laesch taken at YKos by the folks at ePluribus Media.)