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Take 5: Newcomer challenges House Speaker

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NEWARK - Though many see it as a David vs. Goliath contest, political newcomer John Laesch likes his chances against Republican House Speaker Dennis Hastert, who's seeking re-election to Illinois' 14th congressional district.

The race has a Twin City spin, despite the distance between here and Rockford, because Laesch graduated from Illinois State University four years ago.

Have you ever sought public office before and what do you think your chances are in challenging Hastert, who is much better known?

This is my first attempt at public office. I don't want to be a career politician, but I think my chances are good to great.

Has the scandal involving former Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fla., who resigned after it was revealed he sent inappropriate e-mails and text messages to teenage congressional pages, helped your campaign?

It's called attention to my campaign, resulting in more money and campaign workers. I think the overriding issues, however, will be Iraq and immigration.

What do you do for a living, and how do you balance this with campaigning?

I'm a carpenter, but I've been a full-time candidate since August. I won the Democratic primary with 65 percent of the vote.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in West Africa, where my parents were Christian missionaries. We moved back to the United States in the late 1980s. I attended Illinois State University and loved Bloomington-Normal. I felt right at home and it's a great small town with a lot of character.

I understand that you've gotten engaged to your campaign manager?

Yes, Jennifer Downard and I got engaged in May. She was my girlfriend first, then campaign manager. Politics is a game of trust.

John Laesch

Age: 32

Residence: Newark

Occupation: Carpenter; Democrat candidate for U.S. representative, 14th Congressional District of Illinois.

Education: May 2002 graduate, Illinois State University; majored in history and minored in political science and communications.

Military service: U.S. Navy veteran, serving as intelligence analyst in the Middle East.

SOURCES: John Laesch;

Compiled by Bob Holliday


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