Campaign money flowing into the contests for state legislative seats suggests there are four local races that will likely become heated, according to one of the top experts on Illinois politics.
Those four races -- one for a state Senate seat and three for state House seats -- appear to be drawing the most interest from the Democratic and Republican parties, said Kent Redfield, a professor of political science at the University of Illinois at Springfield.
The four races to keep an eye on, according to Redfield:
* The 116th House District, where Jerry Costello II, D-Smithton, and Julie Bigham Eggers, Columbia Republican, are raising money at a fast clip in the race for the seat formerly held by Democrat Dan Reitz.
* The 113th House District, where former state Rep. Jay Hoffman, a Democrat who recently moved to Belleville, is sitting on a $320,000 war chest in his race against Belleville Alderwoman Melinda Hult, the Republican.
* The 111th House District, where incumbent Rep. Dan Beiser, D-Alton, is challenged by Kathy Smith, R-Alton.
* The 56th Senate District, where incumbent Sen. Bill Haine, D-Alton, has a campaign fund of about $501,000. He faces Republican Mike Babcock of Godfrey, whose candidacy has been pushed by the Senate's top Republican.
"I think those are the ones from that area that could really be competitive races," Redfield said. The metro-east has six other contests for statehouse seats, but "there really aren't any races" among those, he said.
Redfield noted, however, that the campaign season is just getting into full gear, and things could change. If polls show a particular race tightening, the parties combined could spend as much as $1 million on a single race. Conversely, if a candidate's polling goes south, his party can quickly cut off the money and shift it elsewhere.
Here's a glimpse at the fundraising figures so far in state legislative races for the metro-east:
116TH HOUSE DISTRICT COSTELLO VS. EGGERS
Two months ahead of the election, both candidates are already airing TV commercials.
Jerry Costello II, who was appointed to the House seat by Democrats after Reitz retired mid-term, had about $207,000 in his campaign fund as of Wednesday, while Julie Bigham Eggers had about $85,000.
"Those numbers could go up pretty dramatically," Redfield said. "Obviously, you've got the House Democrats and House Republicans engaged, in terms of providing staffing and polling. There seems to be a pretty serious commitment on both sides of that race."
He added, "You'd expect this to be one of the major races in terms of downstate. This reflects both sides believing they've got a good candidate in a swing district."
Eggers' top contributors include House Republican Organization, Citizens to Change Illinois, Illinois House Victory Fund and Citizens to Elect Tom Cross. Cross is the House Republican leader.
Costello's top contributors include Democratic Party of Illinois and Democratic Majority.
Costello said: "I'm proud to say that my campaign has received so much local support. The donors to my campaign come from different backgrounds -- Democrat, Republican and independent, but they all share the belief that I have and will represent the 116th District to the best of my ability."
Eggers said the GOP has "told me they'll support me every step of the way, if that means money or whatever is necessary. That means a lot to me."
113TH HOUSE DISTRICT HOFFMAN VS. HULT
Jay Hoffman, a Democrat, and Melinda Hult, a Republican, are vying to replace Belleville Democrat Tom Holbrook, who has become chairman of the Illinois Pollution Control Board.
Hoffman's $320,000 fund includes money left from his previous stint as a House member.
Hult has about $32,000. But her donors include the House Republican Organization, which has provided staff and advertising support.
When Hoffman ran unsuccessfully two years ago against Rep. Dwight Kay, R-Glen Carbon, he got "almost no help" from Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan and Democrats, according to Redfield.
Hoffman instead has been getting most of his money from organized labor.
"Hoffman's got a lot of money. He may or may not spend that," Redfield said. "There's some Republican money there, some activity, so they definitely are interested."
He added, "This one is interesting because the Republicans obviously have put something into it, they definitely are interested in it, but the big question is whether or not the speaker would put any money in it. Hoffman has the resources to be competitive, but we don't know what the speaker is going to do."
Hoffman said, "We intend to run an aggressive campaign which tells our story of creating jobs for our area. It's premature to speculate on the cost of the campaign."
Hult said she has some fundraisers coming up, but expects to be outspent.
"But I don't think it's about money. I'm out there every day, knocking on doors, and I have been for months," Hult said.
111TH HOUSE DISTRICT BEISER VS. SMITH
Incumbent Dan Beiser, D-Alton, has about $147,000 in his campaign fund, compared to about $53,000 for challenger Kathy Smith, an Alton Republican.
Beiser's big donors include the Democratic Party and labor unions. His recent donations include $10,000 from a teacher union and $20,000 from Service Employees International Union, which represents some state workers.
Smith's big donors include House Republican Organization and Citizens to Elect Tom Cross.
"This is another one where both sides are going to be prepared to put money in there, and you could get an escalation if the polling is close, particularly if some other races get sorted out," Redfield said.
Smith said she's expecting to be outspent.
"He's supported by the Chicago machine and the speaker of the House, Mike Madigan," Smith said. "I've taken a different approach, and that has been not raising significant amounts of money from special interests, and instead raising money on a grassroots level."
Smith said Beiser voted in favor last year of a 67 percent increase in the state income tax, and now is being rewarded by Madigan.
56TH SENATE DISTRICT HAINE VS. BABCOCK
Bill Haine, the Democratic incumbent, has about $501,000 in his campaign fund compared to Republican Mike Babcock's nearly $60,000. Haine has begun airing TV ads.
Babcock's big donors include Senate Republicans and owners of some large businesses, such as Uline Inc., Otto, a Carpentersville electronics maker, and a barge company.
Haine's top donors include attorneys and labor unions, such as SEIU, which recently gave him $20,000.
Babcock has been joined on the campaign trail by Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno, who views Haine as particularly vulnerable on two issues: his vote for the tax increase and his pensions.
"It's maybe not a Tier 1 race for Senate Republicans, but they're going to keep their eye on it," Redfield said. "The Senate Republicans have put some money in there to see whether the national campaign swings Republican; they're keeping their options open in that one."
114TH HOUSE DISTRICT JACKSON VS. STOOKEY
Incumbent Eddie Lee Jackson, D-East St. Louis, has about $28,000 in his campaign fund, compared to $229 for Republican challenger Ryan Stookey of Belleville.
Stookey said polling shows there are still a lot of undecided voters in the district, and he's hopeful the state GOP will support him if polling starts going his way.
112TH HOUSE DISTRICT SUAREZ VS. KAY
Democratic challenger Marleen Suarez of Collinsville has been holding her own against incumbent Rep. Dwight Kay, R-Glen Carbon. Suarez had about $59,000 in her fund as of Wednesday, compared to about $65,000 for Kay.
But history shows that Kay can gather campaign money if necessary: His race against Hoffman two years ago ended up being a combined $1.6 million affair.
About $15,000 of Suarez's money has come from herself or her law firm.
108TH HOUSE DISTRICT POLITES VS. MEIER
Charlie Meier, R-Okawville, has about $21,000 in his fund, compared to $250 for Dan Polites, D-O'Fallon.
Polites was slated as a candidate after the primary. Meier won a hard-fought, three-way Republican primary, with the help of $42,000 in campaign money from teacher unions.
Polites said he has a fundraiser planned for this week, and although the Democratic Party hasn't given him any financial support so far, it hasn't been ruled out.
"Whether that changes down the road, is to be determined," Polites said.
58TH SENATE DISTRICT BIGLER VS. LUECHTEFELD
Incumbent Sen. Dave Luechtefeld, R-Okawville, holds a significant money advantage over Democratic challenger Michael Bigler, of Anna, $180,000 to $8,000.
Luechtefeld has been a senator since 1995. His top recent donors include a coal company, Ameren and medical providers.
Bigler is an Illinois Department of Transportation administrator and was a campaign coordinator for former Gov. Rod Blagojevich. His top donors include attorneys and Senate Democrats.
57th SENATE DISTRICT CLAYBORNE VS. BARNES
Sen. James Clayborne, D-Belleville, has the largest campaign fund of metro-east state legislators: $803,000.
Republican challenger Dave Barnes, a St. Clair Township trustee, has about $11,000.
The top recent donor for Clayborne, the Senate majority leader, is a teachers union, which gave $40,000. His contributors range from unions and attorneys to businesses, a hospital association and the state Chamber of Commerce.
Barnes' top recent donor is Otto, a Carpentersville electronics maker, which gave $5,000.
54TH SENATE DISTRICT STOVER VS. MCCARTER
Incumbent Sen. Kyle McCarter, R-Lebanon, has $31,000 while Democratic challenger Danny Stover of Centralia has about $20,000.
McCarter's biggest donors are mostly businesses and Republican groups. His recent contributions include $2,000 from J&J Ventures of Effingham, which is a state-licensed operator of video-gambling terminals, and Lucy's Place LLC, which is trying to open video-gambling businesses in the metro-east and Springfield areas.
Stover's top contributors are attorneys and labor unions.
Contact reporter Brian Brueggemann at email@example.com or 239-2511.