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Crane May Be in for Beaning

National Republicans began a network television ad buy in the high-priced Chicago media market on Wednesday, the surest acknowledgement yet from the party that veteran Illinois Rep. Phil Crane (R) is in danger of losing re-election.

Crane is locked in a tough rematch with Democrat Melissa Bean, who has made the 17-term incumbent’s fitness for office the centerpiece of the campaign. Although GOP strategists say that in the end they believe Crane will win again, for the first time Wednesday the party acknowledged that Crane is in a dogfight.

“Mr. Crane is involved in a tough race,” National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Carl Forti said. “He is pulling ahead and we feel that ultimately, after a few bumps, he will be victorious.”

Two years ago, Bean, a 42-year-old business consultant, held Crane to his lowest re-election percentage in a decade — 56 percent — even though the suburban Chicago 8th district is considered the most Republican in the state.

The ad that the NRCC put on network TV Wednesday has been airing on cable stations in Chicago, the third most expensive market in the country, since last week. The network buy cost the committee an estimated $230,000, according to knowledgeable sources.

“Melissa Bean would support the radical Nancy Pelosi for Speaker,” an announcer says in the 30-second spot. “And that means she’d vote against ‘our own’ Speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert.”

Hastert, who represents a neighboring district, grabbed headlines Wednesday by acknowledging that Crane is in a tough race and for offering a potentially damaging, yet contradictory, critique of Crane.

During a recent editorial meeting with the Elgin Courier News, Hastert admitted that Crane “hasn’t been back to his district probably as much as a younger guy would be” and said that “he hasn’t taken care of the district.”

Still, Hastert said he believes that Crane “will be there in the end” and later insisted that he has taken care of interests back home as second-highest ranking Republican on the Ways and Means Committee.

A source close to Hastert on Wednesday argued that the Speaker’s comment had been taken out of context and stressed that Hastert has remained active in aiding Crane.

Hastert’s comments come one day after Crane’s primary opponent endorsed Bean and urged 8th district voters to support her.

Throughout the campaign, Bean has tried to peg the 73-year-old lawmaker as out of touch with the district, more interested in globe trotting on taxpayer-funded junkets than in the interests of voters back home.

Bean, with the help of local editorials endorsing her bid, has hammered home her argument that Crane has become an ineffective seat warmer after more than three decades in the House. While Bean is not yet on television, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has been slamming Crane in mail pieces. The committee dropped $370,000 in mail on Bean’s behalf last week.

“When Phil Crane first went to Congress in 1969, Gayle Sayers was playing for the Bears and Woodstock was the big summertime happening,” one piece reads. “But after 35 years in Congress, Phil Crane isn’t passing landmark legislation. Instead, he’s taken a record number of lobbyist funded junkets and violating the Congressional gift ban.”

The charge stems from a recent National Public Radio report that found that since 2000, Crane has accepted $109,000 in free trips paid for by special interests and lobbyists.

“[Rep.] Ray LaHood [R-Ill.] and Speaker Hastert are doing a great job of making Melissa Bean’s point,” said DCCC spokesman Greg Speed, referring to previous comments LaHood made dogging his fellow colleague’s attention to matters back home. “That Phil Crane has been out of touch with this district for far too long.”

Privately, however, Republicans doubt that the DCCC will spend the necessary resources on Chicago television to pull Bean through.