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Remap showdown pits 2 Republican favorites in 16th District

U.S. Rep. Don Manzullo (R-Ill.)

Will voters in the far western suburbs hop aboard to fly with the young soaring pilot or keep their feet firmly on the ground with the old trusted hand?

The hottest Republican primary election race in the state is happening in this rural/exurban ring-around-Chicago from the Wisconsin border to the Indiana border. Don Manzullo, 67, a lawyer with a small cattle farm in Leaf River, has represented the northern part of this district for 20 years.

Adam Kinzinger, 33, an Air Force pilot who flew missions over Iraq, was elected two years ago in a south suburban district, defeating Democrat Debbie Halvorson. He is a regular on the talk-show circuit, considered a rising star in the party.

But with Illinois Democrats controlling the map-drawing process, they set out to evict as many Republicans as possible from the state’s Republican delegation.

They drew Kinzinger’s Manteno home into Rep. Jesse Jackson’s mostly African American district and split what was left of Kinzinger’s district among several others. The largest chunk went into the 16th District – Manzullo’s. The largest share of Manzullo’s old district – about 44 percent, also went into the 16th.

So Kinzinger opted to move to Channahon and run against his “friend” Manzullo.

“Don and I are friends and neither of us wants to be put in this predicament,” Kinzinger said. “I’m staying with the people I was elected to represent.”

The friends tried at least initially to stay polite as they argued about who was more conservative. But the television commercials are getting nastier.

“Adam Kinzinger voted to spend $209 billion more than Don Manzullo. Don’t read his lips. Read his record,” a Manzullo ad says.

“My opponent Don Manzullo was a king of earmarks and he voted for failed programs like Obama’s ‘Cash for Clunkers,’ ” Kinzinger says in his new ad.

Conservative and Tea Party groups who helped Kinzinger beat Halvorson two years ago are mostly lining up with Manzullo, who has earned their trust over 20 years.

“This was an easy choice,” said Paul Caprio of Family PAC. “On so many different issues of importance to families, Don Manzullo has carried the spear for the pro-family cause. He has a very proven record. Kinzinger is what we’d call a ‘checklist’ pro-lifer but we need people to really stand up. Occasionally, it’s good to have somebody who’s been in Congress a long time.”

Heritage for America and Americans For Prosperity both give Manzullo more conservative ratings than Kinzinger – based largely on Kinzinger’s reluctance to vote for those $209 million in cuts.

“I’m a fiscal conservative – I want to do it legally and responsibly,” Kinzinger said. “The congressman voted to cut [Aid to Women, Infants and Children] by $604 million above what was already cut – I think we should have a hearing on that.”

And there are issues where Kinzinger totes a more Republican party line than Manzullo, such as the Patriot Act, which Manzullo has come to oppose and voted against last time.

“Congress has no authority to look at somebody’s library records – You talk about snooping on a large scale,” Manzullo said.

Kinzinger supports the Patriot Act: “What the Patriot Act did was give the government the ability to do to terrorism what they can do to organized crime . . . This does not violate individual liberties.”

An automated We Ask America poll finds Kinzinger 13 points ahead of Manzullo. Both men lead in their old territories, but the poll finds Kinzinger leading in the new areas.

The center of the new sprawling district is near Starved Rock State Park, where some neighbors are objecting to a new sand mine set to open next door. Both Manzullo and Kinzinger say that’s a local – not a congressional – issue.