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Illinois congressional candidates focus on jobs

CHICAGO – Candidates in Illinois' tight U.S. House races mostly focused on jobs Monday during various election-eve campaign stops, including a bus tour, a mill rally, a town hall meeting at a manufacturing plant and a show of solidarity with protesting workers.

Republican Rep. Bobby Schilling, a freshmen facing a tough challenge from Democrat Cheri Bustos, made the last stop Monday on his self-described "Bob's for Jobs" tour and planned a workers rally in west-central Illinois. Meanwhile, Bustos was set to meet with protesting workers on the verge of losing their jobs at the Sensata Technologies plant in Freeport.

"The election is about jobs," said Bustos campaign spokesman Arden Manning. "Cheri is very clear that she stands with the workers."

That sentiment echoed in congressional contests from Illinois' western border to Chicago's suburbs to the state's southwestern corner as candidates made a flurry of 11th-hour stops. Candidates also tried to inspire voters to get to the polls Tuesday and reiterated their pitches by greeting commuters, meeting business owners and talking about health care.

Both parties were watching President Barack Obama's home state for six close congressional races and the Chicago area re-election contest of U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., who remains hospitalized.

The close contests included the suburban Chicago matchups between Republican Rep. Judy Biggert and Democratic former Rep. Bill Foster; Republican Rep. Joe Walsh and Democrat Tammy Duckworth; and Republican Rep. Bob Dold and Democrat Brad Schneider.

In downstate Illinois, candidates vied for the two seats left open by retiring congressmen – Republican Tim Johnson and Democrat Jerry Costello.

Around Chicago, workers' concerns were a main talking point for Dold as he hosted a town hall meeting for employees at Keats Manufacturing Co. in Wheeling. He was locked in a close battle with Schneider, who said jobs were among his top issues during his final crisscross of the suburban Chicago district.

One of the state's nastiest campaigns didn't change its tone on Monday. Walsh has tried to portray Duckworth as a "failed bureaucrat" with establishment support while Duckworth has played up Walsh's controversial statements and tried to paint him as too extreme for the Democratic-leaning district outside Chicago.

In a message thanking supporters Monday, Walsh also took a jab at Duckworth.

"These are local supporters who feel passionate about this campaign, not hired Chicago goons that my opponent has had to import and pay to knock on doors," he said in a statement.

Duckworth's campaign called the allegation untrue but also pointed out that mailers for Walsh's campaign had misspelled "veteran."

"It is clear that Congressman Walsh doesn't understand the meaning of service," said Duckworth, who was badly injured in Iraq.

Walsh's campaign spokesman dismissed the spelling mistake, saying he wasn't sure what mailer was in question and shot back that numerous mailers from Duckworth's campaign have contained grammatical errors.

In central Illinois' 13th District, Republican Rodney Davis was scheduled to stop in Decatur, Springfield and alongside first-term Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger in Normal and Urbana. Democrat David Gill, a Bloomington physician, also had a packed schedule with stops in Edwardsville, Champaign, Decatur and Springfield.

The race unfolding in the district where Costello is retiring also touched on workers.

Democrat Bill Enyart, a Belleville attorney who has served as the Illinois National Guard's chief, courted voters at a Granite City steel mill after rallying college students during his several-day tour of the largely economically distressed district stretching from St. Louis' Illinois suburbs to the state's southernmost tip. His rival, Republican lumber company executive Jason Plummer zig-zagged from county to county in the 12th District chatting up would-be voters in diners and other small businesses. By Plummer's side was Rep. John Shimkus, a fellow Republican and veteran lawmaker expected to win his congressional race.

Meanwhile, one congressman was absent from the campaign trail. Jackson remained hospitalized at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., but his little-known opponents continued to bring up his name.

The congressman faces three challengers who experts predict have little chance of unseating the Democrat who's easily the Chicago area district since 1995.

On the ballot are Republican college professor Brian Woodworth and Marcus Lewis, a postal worker who's running as an independent candidate. Anthony Williams, who hosts gospel radio show in Chicago, is also running a spirited write-in campaign. All three have made Jackson's health and corruption allegations central themes in their campaigns.

"My God, he has to go," said Lewis, who is known for fiery critiques of Jackson. He spent Monday talking to voters and passing out campaign literature. "Remember that Marcus Lewis is a viable alternative to Congressman Jesse Jackson."

Jackson, who remained under a House Ethics Committee investigation for links to imprisoned ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich, checked back into the Mayo last month for the second time. He is being treated for bipolar disorder.

The congressman would watch election night results from Mayo, said his father, the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

"He's focused on his health as first priority," he said.

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Follow Sophia Tareen at http://twitter.com/sophiatareen.

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