GOP wrong to play residency card

I’m going to touch on a few things in this column having to do with the rematch between Rep. Phil Crane (R-Ill.) and Democrat Melissa Bean and why any GOP assault on Bean because she lives out of the district is hypocritical, to say the least.

More on that in a few paragraphs.

I spent some of Saturday with each candidate in what is the marquee House race in Illinois and one of the most closely watched House races in the nation.

Crane was bolstered by Jack Kemp, the former HUD secretary and Bob Dole running mate who served in the House with Crane. The popular Illinois Democratic Senate nominee, Barack Obama, who has potentially significant coattails, stumped with Bean.

Long tenure no guarantee

I heard Bean and Obama talk about the need for more federal money to fund grants to help undergraduates pay tuition, during a stop at the College of Lake County in Grayslake, and watched Crane cut the ribbon at a new shelter for battered women in Rolling Meadows for which he helped obtain a grant.

The race is close in the 8th Congressional District, sprawled across portions of suburban Cook, Lake and McHenry counties. Crane has been in Congress for 34 years, but in a district swollen with new residents, Crane’s long tenure does not automatically translate into votes.

Terry Link, the Lake County Democratic chairman — I ran into him at a get-out-the vote rally in Gurnee — told me the record registration in Lake County comes in pockets of the 8th District that are Democratic-leaning. Zion, brought into the district in the remap after the 2000 census, is “ripe for the picking.”

The district was gerrymandered in that remap to get rid of Crane’s past and future rivals. Bean, a Barrington resident since 1987, ended up 1,400 feet outside the district.

The National Republican Congressional Committee, as part of a $530,493 media buy (according to tracking by the Bean campaign), is running a negative ad attacking Bean on her residency, echoing a charge Crane has been using.

The NRCC spot has this line: “Melissa Bean didn’t live in our district when she ran in 2002 and still hasn’t moved into our district, and that means she doesn’t care.”

It’s not like Bean has been living in another state, let’s say Maryland, for example. If ever there was a year for Republicans to give up on a carpetbagger charge, this is it.

How can Crane, the NRCC or any Illinois Republican keep a straight face complaining about where Bean lives when Illinois Republicans imported Alan Keyes from Maryland to run against Obama? In 2004, Illinois Republicans just can’t have it both ways.

It is perfectly legal for a person to run for a House seat and not live in the district. The Constitution allows for a person to be elected and not even live in the district he or she is supposed to represent. If you think I am talking theory here, I am not.

Opens himself to charge

Gov. Blagojevich is a former House member. And when Blagojevich was first elected to Congress, he did not live in the district. For years, he was a resident of Rep. Luis Gutierrez’s (D-Ill.) district, until he bought his Ravenswood Manor home.

By playing the residency card, Crane left himself open to the charge by Bean that he spends too much time in Washington and not enough in the 8th District. Crane owns a condo in Wauconda purchased in 1993 and a home in a Virginia suburb near Washington he bought in 1970.

Bean today will unveil a list of Republicans who are endorsing her. House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) a few days ago made another appearance on behalf of Crane, to promote a jobs bill Crane championed.

But Hastert also gave a damaging quote at a recent meeting with the editorial board of the Elgin Courier News. He said Crane “hasn’t been back to his district probably as much as a younger guy would be.” John McGovern, a Hastert spokesman, told me a few days ago Hastert was responding to questions.

Raising residency questions about Bean, Crane is finding, can cut both ways.