Former Speaker Dennis Hastert (R) is still uncertain whether he’ll serve out the remainder of his term ahead of next year’s election.
Illinois’ early February primary already has drawn two prominent Republican candidates into the race, dairy scion Jim Oberweis and state Sen. Chris Lauzen. Depending on when he leaves, an early departure by Hastert could force a special election to temporarily fill his seat, and some Republicans privately fear that a special election would jeopardize the GOP’s hold on the exurban Chicago seat.
But Hastert said this week that if he leaves before the end of 2008, he will time his exit so that a special election would not be necessary.
“I don’t see a primary before the primary,” Hastert told The Associated Press.
Meanwhile in Washington, D.C., Republicans gathered Wednesday night to honor Hastert at a fundraiser benefiting the National Republican Congressional Committee. The “Salute to Speaker Hastert” event was held at the Capitol Hill Club and was expected to raise around $500,000, a total far exceeding the initial goal.
The 32-Member host committee included Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Republican Conference Chairman Adam Putnam (Fla.), NRCC Chairman Tom Cole (Okla.) and Chief Deputy Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.), as well as members of Hastert’s former leadership team. Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.), who often was a thorn in the side of GOP leaders during Hastert’s tenure, also was among the event hosts.
Rep. Phil English (R-Pa.), who has led the committee’s debt retirement effort, said the response from Members for the Hastert event has been overwhelming.
“As receptions go at the Capitol Hill Club this has been a real blowout,” English said. “I really feel that Republicans in the House are fired up and I think that this is a very good indication of their commitment.”
— Matthew Murray and Lauren W. Whittington