Politics & Policy

Illinois the Epicenter of Business Backlash

You know things are bad when Illinois, Barack Obama’s own backyard, is the focus of a Wall Street Journal piece discussing the massive backlash of business against the Democratic party. What’s worse, the most familiar name in the article is challenging literally the most liberal congresswoman in America. Highlights below:

Rick Woldenberg runs an educational products company from a suburban Chicago office stacked with brightly colored toys. He backed Barack Obama in 2008. But he has turned on Democrats this year.

Mr. Woldenberg has never before been active in politics, but he is angry that Congress and the Obama administration won’t revise new rules on lead testing in children’s products that he says will kill his business, Learning Resources Inc. So he is raising money for Republicans among Chicago business owners —so much money, in fact, that he is rattling the incumbent holding what has been one of the safest Democratic seats in the state where Mr. Obama built his political career.

“If Democrats are going to put me out of business, I’m going to put them out of business first,” he said.

Small business concerns have taken a high profile in the 2010 campaign. More small business candidates are running for public office than at any time in a generation, say officials at the National Federation of Independent Business, the capital’s chief small business lobby. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce says it has exceeded fundraising targets from small businesses this year, despite the poor economy.[…]

But conservative and business groups, including the Chamber, say business contributions are fueling their efforts to spend as much as $300 million to help Republicans this fall.[…]

“I think Obama ran as more of a moderate, and business people here are now realizing that this huge expansion of government is not sustainable,” said Leo Dombrowski, an attorney at Wildman, Harrold, Allen & Dixon LLP in Chicago, whose clients are fighting new environmental rules.

A survey of small business executives commissioned by the Chamber and conducted by Republican pollster Frank Luntz and Democratic pollster Doug Schoen, found that 52% of 590 small business executives surveyed described themselves as “somewhat” or “much more” discouraged about the future because of the “new rules and regulations coming from the current Congress and the Obama administration.” Of the business owners polled, 64% described themselves as discouraged.

Mr. Woldenberg has channeled his unhappiness into helping raise $497,000 for Joel Pollak, a 32-year old Harvard law school graduate who is challenging Obama friend Rep. Jan Schakowsky in Chicago’s 9th district, an author and ardent defender of the new children’s product lead law. That’s 20 times more than any Republican has raise for a run against Ms. Schakowsky, who polled 75% in the last election and is vying for a 7th term.[…]

“My partners and I have been lifelong Democrats,” he said. But he changed sides, he said, because “I can’t stand here and tell you what health-care is going to cost.”

Ms. Schakowsky is polling at slightly more than 60%, according to her internal polls, a solid lead but narrower than in the past. The campaign has hired four field staffers for the first time, and is sending less money to Democrats in closer races.

“I’m not worried about it, but I’m taking it seriously,” she said. She is still proud of the lead law. “The goal is to save children from toys that are toxic.”

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