CHICAGO – From knocking on doors to making phone calls to arranging for Election Day transportation, energized advocates, party loyalists and candidates in Illinois ramped up their efforts over the weekend.
Tuesday's election in President Barack Obama's home state features seven closely watched U.S. House races and a matchup that will determine if an indicted former state lawmaker can return to Springfield.
One hotly contested suburban matchup features tea party U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh and Democratic Iraq war veteran Tammy Duckworth.
"We're all nervous about the future of our country," said Jae Choi Kim, the head of the Asian American Action Fund of Greater Chicago, which backs Duckworth. The group made 14,000 voter calls in heavily Asian suburbs in native languages, knocked on doors and helped people coordinate how to get to the polls Tuesday.
Walsh's loyal supporters also were busy. Tea party activist and voter Carol Ann Parisi, 51, made calls from home.
"You can do laundry, cook dinner and take back your country at the same time," she joked.
Election Day sentiments were common in churches. The Rev. Michael Pfleger reminded parishioners Sunday at his large Catholic church in Chicago to vote and said the church would provide free transportation to the polls.
The Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, the state's largest immigrant advocacy group, contacted nearly 160,000 voters during the 13-day early voting period and planned rallies and canvassing through Tuesday.
Both parties pushed voter efforts too.
Illinois Republican Party Chairman Pat Brady said the national GOP sent in two busloads of workers from Washington. The party made more than 100,000 phone calls Saturday and recently surpassed the 4.2 million calls made in 2010.
"It's massive," Brady said of the party's operation.
The GOP said it will use tens of millions of pieces of data from external sources, such as the type of magazines a voter receives, to ensure likely Republican voters get to the polls. Volunteers will spend the last hours Tuesday contacting those who haven't voted.
Obama was expected to easily capture the state, so Illinois Democrats' efforts were more focused on other races. Some volunteers also went to other states, including Wisconsin, Indiana and Iowa.
"Illinois has not only a good instinct, but they're exporting some of the activists," said Steve Brown, a spokesman for House Speaker Mike Madigan, chairman of Illinois' Democratic Party.
Other close House races in the Chicago area were Republican Rep. Judy Biggert and Democratic former Rep. Bill Foster and Republican Rep. Bob Dold and Democrat Brad Schneider. In downstate Illinois, there were two open seats left by retiring Reps. Republican Tim Johnson and Democrat Jerry Costello.
Another competitive matchup unfolded in west-central Illinois, where first term Republican Rep. Bobby Schilling faced a tough challenge from Democrat Cheri Bustos.
Rock Island County Republican Party Chairman Susie Carpentier spent the weekend getting poll watchers ready, while finishing off the push for early voting. That county is key in the district.
Rock Island County Democratic Party Chairman Doug House trained more than 150 poll watchers and volunteers who will be walking through neighborhoods and working the phones. He also stocked up on prepaid cellphones to supplement the 50 phones party members will be using to communicate with workers on Election Day. He estimated that between Labor Day and Election Day, each registered voter identified as a Democrat will receive between 13 and 15 contacts.
"We'll just keep on them right through Tuesday," he said.
And on Wednesday?
"Hopefully I'll still be married," House joked, adding that his wife has been "a political widow" for the last 90 days.
Both parties pushed early voting, which ended Saturday in Illinois. Some in Chicago reported waiting four hours to cast ballots.
Some election officials predicted early ballots would exceed those cast in 2008. In Chicago, voters cast 243,000 early votes, which was up slightly percentage wise from 2008. However, it wasn't higher than the overall number of 2008 early votes, which was 260,000.
Statewide totals weren't available, but anecdotal evidence suggested the trend rang true across Illinois. At Southern Illinois University — where the student Democratic organization registered a record 3,000 student voters this year— more than 700 people showed up for early voting. The line earlier this week wrapped around the student bookstore.
The anomaly in Illinois was the Chicago area district represented by the ailing Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. Beyond a recent robocall, he hasn't campaigned since June when he took medical leave and is still expected to easily win over little-known challengers. The Chicago Democrat was expected to remain at Minnesota's Mayo Clinic through the election.
Former Rep. Derrick Smith, who was expelled from office after being indicted on federal bribery charges, is also on the ballot, though the Democrat hasn't been seen much. After he refused to step down, Democrats created third party and backed candidate Lance Tyson for the Chicago area district.
Follow Sophia Tareen at http://twitter.com/sophiatareen