By Carol Felsenthal
The polls show the race for the North Shore's 10th District in a 46-46 dead heat, while Democratic leaders stress not only that their path to taking back the House runs through Illinois--they need 25 seats and are hoping for five here--but that the 10th is the most Democratic district currently in Republican hands (of freshman congressman Robert Dold, who has the seat long held by now-Senator Mark Kirk).
That ups the pressure on 51-year-old Deerfield resident Brad Schneider, a management consultant who is running for office for the first time. Losing would certainly put a damper on future opportunities in the political sphere, especially because redistricting has made the district--which Schneider describes as "only 65 percent of the old 10th"--even more Democratic.
The six-foot-three Schneider--avid bicyclist; father of two; married to Julie, a member of the Dann insurance family--looked impeccably groomed, relaxed, and confident as we talked one afternoon earlier this month in the Chicago office of his political strategist, Eric Adelstein. Schneider had survived a primary against a more activist and left-leaning opponent, Ilya Sheyman, who blasted Schneider for having contributed to Kirk and a couple of other Republicans.
Below is an edited transcript of my conversation with Schneider, who faces off with Dold in three televised debates before November 6--October 17 on ABC7, October 21 on FOX Chicago News, and October 23 on WTTW's Chicago Tonight:
CF: You're a management consultant. So you share a background and work life with Mitt Romney?
BS: No, very different. For the last six sixteen years, I've worked with family businesses, small and medium-sized businesses, frustrated [although they have] a vision of where they want to go. My role has always been to help them realize that vision, bringing in the next generation, sometimes sibling rivalry or parent/child conflict. A lot of companies I work with are going through transitions from one technology to the next, and it's hard to make that leap when you've done things a certain way for a generation.
CF: So how does that experience ready you for Congress?
BS: Small businesses are the core of our economy; the engine that drives growth. They are 55 percent of the jobs in the country. A lot of the people you see now [who] are being laid off from large companies would like nothing more than to start their own small business, so we need to give them the confidence and the wherewithal and the economic environment so they can do that. There is an absolute unwillingness of people in Washington to work together, to look forward beyond two months or two years to the next election. That's hamstringing a strategic plan. I like to look three, four, five years out. Washington is not looking beyond the next election.
CF: Republicans will say that small businesses are not adding employees because their owners are worried about health care and tax structures, so they're waiting out the election.
BS: Small businesses invest when they see the opportunity. One thing we saw in the last couple of years is that banks won't lend to investors in small companies, in part because the same rules that are being applied to big banks are being applied to community banks. We need to make sure that our policies understand the difference between large corporations, too-big-to-fail banks and smaller companies, really [must] allow bankers to [exercise] judgment. "This is my neighbor. I know her character. I know that she's going to be good for the loan." It might not fit all the rules of our lending practices, but there's other things we can take into account. Congress [has to] find a way to come together, to stop yelling at each other and start working together, which is one of the things I'm focusing the campaign on.
CF: Looking at the current members of Congress, with whom do you see yourself being collaborative and collegial with in the Republican party?
BS: If you remember in the primary I was attacked pretty aggressively because of a long history of reaching across the aisle.
CF: Do you mean attacked for contributing to Republicans? [Schneider contributed to Mark Kirk in 2007, 2008, and 2009, and to Republican senators Mike Johanns and Robert Bennett.]
BS: I'm pragmatic and a moderate. I'm willing to work with any Republican, with anyone who has a good idea. I'm not going to compromise my principles to do so, but I think we can find that common ground. There have been Republicans who have worked hard to reach across the aisle. Look what's happened to them: Dick Lugar lost his seat. Olympia Snowe said, "I'm just not going to do it anymore." What we've seen is the Tea Party really taking the Republican party hostage. There is no such thing as a moderate Republican anymore--because they can't be. The penalty for standing up and reaching across the aisle is losing support from their own party.
CF: Does Bob Dold have Tea Party support? He seems to me to be, like Mark Kirk when he was running for the Senate, trying to distance himself from that.
BS: Dold's trying to portray himself as being like Mark Kirk , but he's not like Mark Kirk. There are profound differences. Mark Kirk had the endorsements of the Sierra Club, the League of Conservation Voters, the Human Rights Campaign. All of those have given me their endorsement. They see that I'm the one who best reflects their values.
CF: Do you see yourself as in the mold of a Mark Kirk?
BS: I see myself in my own mold. I'm too old to run left in the primary and right in the general. I have a good sense of who I am.
CF: So can you give me a name or two of Republicans you admire among current House members or even somebody in the Senate?
BS: Denny Rehberg, who's running for the Senate in Montana, in the House today. Here's someone who voted against the Ryan budget.
CF: What would you do about Obamacare?
BS: We have to make sure that what's working in the Affordable Care Act--you can't be kicked off if you have a new job or a preexisting condition--we continue to pursue. Things that aren't quite right, we fix them. We need to make sure that we understand the specific needs of every business, that we don't do one-size-fits-all. I want to make sure that as we implement going forward, we do it in a way that doesn't hamstring small business, but actually allows them to grow.
CF: You weren't born and reared here; how did you end up in Chicago?
BS: I grew up in Denver; my parents were both born in Denver. I came here for college [Northwestern] in 1979, graduated in 1983 [with a B.S. in Industrial Engineering], went to Israel for a year, then back to Denver for two years, and back to Northwestern for my MBA, which is where I met my wife, Julie, who's from Glencoe. We have two boys; Adam is 19, a sophomore at Dartmouth, and Daniel is 17, a senior at Deerfield High School.
CF: How does the issue of Israel play in the campaign? You're Jewish and your opponent is not, but yet he's embraced Israel and its security needs.
BS: In the 10th District, any Republican or Democrat is going to be solid for Israel. There's a large Jewish community [interested] in the security of Israel and [supportive of] the strong bonds between the U.S. and Israel. This is an area where I'm very strong; I've been to Israel more times than I could actually count.
CF: [Following a discussion of the murder of the US ambassador to Libya that happened the day before we talked, I asked Schneider] Do you have confidence in Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State?
BS: I think Hillary Clinton has been one of the best secretaries of state we've ever had.
CF: If you were to win this race, would you sleep in your office [as several Illinois congressmen--Republican Joe Walsh and Democrats Dan Lipinski, Mike Quigley, Luis Gutierrez, and Bobby Rush--do]?
BS: I can make a few promises, and one is I will not sleep in my office.