AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Now to the battle for control of the U.S. House of Representatives. Republicans currently have the majority, and Democrats need to flip at least 25 seats to change that. Though most political observers say that's a long shot, Democrats are fighting hard to make it happen. We go now to the frontline of that fight.
PAUL GREEN: If the Democrats are going to take over the House of Representatives, the road has to come through Illinois.
CORNISH: Paul Green, a political analyst at Roosevelt University, says that's because a third of the 18 congressional seats in Illinois are up for grabS. NPR's Cheryl Corley takes a look at two of those races, both in the Chicago area.
CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: The 10th and 11th Congressional Districts in Illinois are among the six races in the state where new maps give Democrats an opportunity and put Republicans on defense. The 10th District is one of the most closely watched in the state. Democrats hope to defeat freshman Congressman Bob Dold. In the 11th District, Republican Congresswoman Judy Biggert is in a tough race to reach an eighth term. The 10th is a mix of upscale and working class communities in the suburbs north of Chicago. Democrat Cathy Tolver(ph) is a longtime resident.
CATHY TOLVER: My mother-in-law moved here about 60 years ago, and she said when she went to vote the first time, they didn't even have the Democratic ticket. They had to go find it in the warehouse.
CORLEY: And for decades a Republican has been the district's representative. But in a blue state like Illinois, bipartisanship and moderation has long been a part of the political DNA. A Republican moderate, U.S. Senator Mark Kirk, used to be the congressman. Now it's Dold. His Democratic challenger is management consultant Brad Schneider. During a debate at WLS-TV in Chicago, both touted their middle-of-the-road credentials. First, Congressman Dold.
REPRESENTATIVE ROBERT DOLD: I've stood up and broken with my party on major issues, whether it be gun control, a woman's right to choose, violence against women, the environment, transportation and infrastructure.
CORLEY: Democrat Schneider also claims the independent mantle.
BRAD SCHNEIDER: So if you remember my primary, I was attacked aggressively for the work I've done with Republicans, the work I did with Mark Kirk, with other Republicans around the country, because I was the moderate in that race.
CORLEY: In the reconfigured 11th Congressional District, the suburbs west and southwest of Chicago, independence is also an issue. That's where Congressman Biggert is in a tight battle with Democrat Bill Foster, a former congressman trying to make his way back into the House. Both the Democratic and Republican National Party see the importance of these races and have poured in money and strategic help. So attack ads have been fast and furious. One recent political spot has Republicans crying foul. It links Representatives Dold and Biggert to their more conservative and controversial colleague, Joe Walsh, a tea party favorite who's in a tough race of his own.
(SOUNDBITE OF AD)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Judy Biggert and Bob Dold voted with Walsh against mortgage relief and to give tax cuts to millionaires.
CORLEY: Dold, Biggert and the Democrats call all the ads targeting them distortions of their records. Paul Green, the director of the Institute for Politics at Roosevelt University, says it's been like a very rough boxing match.
GREEN: When it comes to commercials in Illinois, you wear your trunks around your ankles. There are no low blows.
CORLEY: Congressman Judy Biggert, who's long been considered one of the state's more moderate Republicans, says the campaign has become very nasty. But Democrat Bill Foster makes no apologies
BILL FOSTER: Well, she certainly votes with Joe Walsh under (unintelligible) at the time. And so, you know, to that extent, it's factually true. You know, the fact is Congresswoman Biggert has moved to the right with the Tea Party Congress.
CORLEY: For her part, Biggert says the Tea Party has raised the consciousness of voters who've been disengaged. But she says she is a moderate and she is really disturbed about the negative ads.
REPRESENTATIVE JUDY BIGGERT: He wants to work in Congress. It's going to be just the same where one, you know, one side wants this and one side wants that. I vote with my party when I think they're right, and I vote against them when I think they're wrong.
CORLEY: There is not likely to be any change of tone in these Illinois districts. They're considered a big prize as Democrats and Republicans fight over the ballots of the U.S. House. Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chicago. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.