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Local

Gingrich's scheduled stump for Hastert prompts Republican zingers

GENEVA – Inviting former House Speaker Newt Gingrich to a $100-a-plate breakfast event next month for Congressional candidate Ethan Hastert has stirred a small firestorm of criticism from three of his Republican Primary opponents.

But politicos say despite Gingrich's controversial aspects, he's a big name Republican who likely can pull in big dollars for Hastert.

Hastert's opponents wonder whether Gingrich's appearance will cost the Republican party a chance at winning back the 14th Congressional seat Nov. 2, 2010. The seat is currently held by Democrat Bill Foster, and was formerly held by Hastert's father, Dennis Hastert who also served as House Speaker.

"The legacy of the Gingrich-Hastert regime is that they presided over the largest government expansion and biggest deficits in our nation’s history," said State Sen. Randall Hultgren, R-Wheaton, who is running against Ethan Hastert.

"Republican voters want a candidate who will fight for the conservative principles that made our nation great – not a politician who is all sizzle and no steak," said candidate James Purcell of Batavia. "Republicans like Newt Gingrich lost us our majority in Congress in 
2006 and could seriously hurt us in 2010."

"Is former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich's endorsement of Ethan Hastert a signal of his father's continued influence in Washington?" said candidate Jeff Danklefsen of Geneva. "Voters have a right to ask if Ethan will represent their interests or those of his father."

 "This latest intrusion into local politics by Gingrich is eerily similar to (Gingrich's) recent endorsement of Republican turned Democrat Dede Scozzafava in New York," Hultgren said.

Scozzafava withdrew from the race last month.

Call it sour grapes and politics, said Matthew Streb, a political scientist at Northern Illinois University.

"Ethan Hastert has name recognition because of his father and that's why he is the front-runner and can bring in big-name Republicans who can bring in money for him," Streb said. "I would be hard-pressed to find any other candidate, who, if Newt Gingrich would come to town and fundraise, would say, 'No thank you. I don't want your fundraising prowess.'"

Streb said the other candidates all going after Hastert is not uncommon in politics.

"They paint him as part of the establishment and it's exactly the strategy that makes perfect sense to try to do," Streb said. "But Gingrich is not without skeletons. He is a highly visible Republican. He quickly lost a lot of favor but Gingrich was never defeated. He resigned because he was not an effective party leader any more."

Gingrich, House Speaker from 1995 to 1999, resigned following a controversial two years that included a penalty for ethics violations and reports that he had affair during the time he criticized President Clinton for his affair with Monica Lewinsky.

Despite the criticism, Andrew E. Nelms, Field Director for Ethan Hastert for Congress, said Gingrich led the 1994 Republican Revolution which ended 40 years of the Democratic Party's majority.

"We are still honored to have speaker Gingrich coming and supporting Ethan's candidacy," Nelms said. "Right now, Republicans are in the minority in Congress and looking for a food hold on these national issues. and who is the last person to bring Republicans back into the majority ... why it was Newt Gingrich."

Michael Kenyon, chairman of the Kane County Republican Central Committee, said he hoped everyone would be respectful during the primary process.

"All's fair in love, war and politics," Kenyon said. "If Newt Gingrich was coming to Kane County to support any one of the other guys – maybe it made them mad he's not coming for them instead of Ethan. I'm disappointed his coming has brought out so much ill feeling."

Still, having Gingrich come to raise money is a two-edged sword for Hastert, say both Streb and Gabby Adler, Midwestern Regional Press Secretary for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

"This is exactly why Hastert is the front-runner and the Democrats are somewhat nervous about this race – his father's connections," Streb said. "Dennis does not have to stay out entirely, but Ethan has to show himself as his own public person, his own candidate, not just a puppet of his father."

Adler said the younger Hastert has traded in on the family name throughout his campaign.

"He has to rely on his father's connections to get him elected to congress because he does not have a base of support in the district," Adler said. "Otherwise, he would be able to fundraise on his own and build a campaign infrastructure on his own."

Adler pointed to a series of Washington D.C. fundraisers for Ethan Hastert, including one this past July at Dickstein Shapiro, the law firm where the elder Hastert now works, as proof.

"He's using his father's connections for every fundraiser," Adler said. "Why is Gingrich giving this event for him? Because his name is Hastert."

Nelms disagreed.

"That is baseless," Nelms said. "We've been overwhelmed with the reaction we received from people throughout the district, from DuPage to the other border. Folks are enthusiastic about Ethan's message. Ethan has been working tirelessly, traveling all over the district, participating in forums and making his case to the voters."

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