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GOP candidates line up to try to reclaim the 14th District from Underwood

In 2018, political upstart Lauren Underwood muscled her way to the front of five other Democrats seeking to unseat a Republican in one of the most closely watched congressional races in the nation.

Now it's her turn: There's a crowd of Republicans jostling for the opportunity to challenge her in the 14th District.

In a race that's virtually the opposite of Underwood's 2018 primary drive to face entrenched Republican Randy Hultgren, eight Republicans have announced plans to try to unseat Underwood next November after just one term in Congress.

As in 2018, President Donald Trump will loom large in the background. And the GOP field will attempt to piece together a platform true to Republican values but one that, in some way, resonates better with the district than the message Hultgren touted just a year ago.

The 14th congressional district is sure to be among the most competitive of the primary races, as the national GOP considers it a prime candidate to return to the Republican column after suffering a host of losses two years ago.

The district, which wraps around the North and West suburbs from just west of Zion to southwest of Joliet, includes of mix of demographics, from blue-collar farmers to white-collar scientists. Its voters went for Trump by 4 percentage points in 2016. Therein may lie the biggest vulnerability to Underwood's bid to keep the seat.

The impeachment appears ready to draw out longer toward the March primary season. Trump has already said he's preparing for a full Senate trial.

But to get there, Underwood will be faced with possibly the most difficult vote of her young tenure.

With the support shown for Trump in her own district during the last presidential race, Underwood has navigated a careful line of not outright supporting or rejecting impeachment. Instead, she's told her constituents she supports going wherever the facts lead.

So far, that's still been just enough to enrage hard line conservatives and narrowly appease the most liberal contingent of her support base.

Along the way, Underwood has focused her legislative efforts largely along the lines on which she campaigned.

Five of her bills focused on improvements to veterans' health care. Five other bills focused on health care or prescription affordability, medical research or medical screenings at border crossings. Her other bills focused on increasing state and local tax deductions - known as SALT - which had been capped by the federal income tax reform of 2017, as well as lowering higher education costs and increasing access to retirement benefits.

There are reasons more conservative voters would like to see Underwood replaced.

She voted with her fellow House Democrats in 98.4% of all roll calls, according to a tracker created by ProPublica. She supports the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and the DREAM Act, unrestricted access to abortion services and investment in renewable energy to combat climate change.

Underwood also made a controversial statement during a Homeland Security committee meeting earlier this year: She said the Trump administration is intentionally creating poor conditions at border detention facilities, where multiple children have died.

All of that is red meat for local Republicans who believe the 14th District never would have fallen into Democratic hands if Hultgren had run a more energetic campaign and been more visible in the district during his time in office.

That has drawn GOP contenders who are already fairly well-known, like state Sens. Jim Oberweis of Sugar Grove and Sue Rezin of Morris, and former Kendall County Republican Party Chairman James Marter of Oswego.

There are a host of newcomers positioning themselves as non-politicians, including Jerry Evans of Warrenville, who owns a music school, and Ted Gradel of Naperville, a futures trader and hedge fund investor.

There's a candidate with a platform that leans toward Libertarian values in Danny Malouf of Crystal Lake. There's Anthony Catella of St. Charles, a veteran and former priest. And 26-year-old upstart Catalina Lauf of Woodstock, a Trump appointee to the U.S. Department of Commerce, has gained traction in conservative media circles as the anti-Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

There's also still time for even more candidates to jump into the race and win the hearts, and dollars, of both the local and national GOP. The deadline to file for the primary is Dec. 2.

Who's who among the 14th Congressional District GOP candidates

Here's a closer look at the eight people who say they plan to file to run in the Republican primary for the seat held by Democrat Lauren Underwood of Naperville.

<h3 class="leadin">Anthony Catella of St. Charles </h3>

An army veteran and former Catholic priest, he has raised $589 in campaign contributions.

Platform:

• "The humble use of power."

• Supports term limits

• Bipartisanship

• "Order with justice under law."

<h3 class="leadin">Jerry Evans of Warrenville </h3>

The owner of the Jerry Evans School of Music, he has no publicly reported campaign contributions.

Platform:

• Supports term limits and congressional ethics reform

• Believes life begins at conception

• Supports Trump's border wall plans and reforms of the asylum system

• Has a seven-point plan to combat human trafficking, the first detailed policy position of any of the candidates

<h3 class="leadin">Ted Gradel of Naperville</h3>

A former Notre Dame collegiate football player, the youth sports coach, futures trader and hedge fund investor has raised $569,000 in campaign contributions.

Platform:

• Supports term limits

• Supports making the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act permanent

• Wants to shrink federal debt

• Sees the fight against ISIS as "a blueprint for precise, limited action in cases where it is absolutely necessary"

<h3 class="leadin">Catalina Lauf of Woodstock </h3>

A former Uber employee appointed by President Donald Trump to be an adviser at the U.S. Department of Commerce, she has raised $104,000 in campaign contributions.

Platform:

• Supports "securing the border"

• Opposes the Violence Against Women Act, saying the Second Amendment is the most powerful protection women have

• Opposes feminism and believes there is no widespread wage gap between men and women

• Opposes the Green New Deal

<h3 class="leadin">Danny Malouf of Crystal Lake </h3>

A human resources manager, he has raised $4,700 in campaign contributions.

Platform:

• Ending all taxpayer-funded foreign aid

• Supports repealing the Patriot Act

• Supports ending the Federal Reserve

• Opposes current military actions overseas

<h3 class="leadin">James Marter of Oswego </h3>

The former Kendall County Republican Party chairman, who has had two previous unsuccessful runs for federal office, has raised $34,000 in campaign contributions.

Platform:

• Supports a ban on lobbying by former members of Congress

• Opposes all federal funding of Planned Parenthood

• Supports Trump's border wall plan, reducing family-based visas and ending birthright citizenship for children of undocumented immigrants

• Supports tax cuts and paying down the national debt

<h3 class="leadin">Jim Oberweis of Sugar Grove </h3>

The dairy magnate and current member of the Illinois State Senate, who had unsuccessful runs for the U.S. Senate in 2002, 2004 and 2014, governor in 2006 and the 14th Congressional District in 2008, has raised $746,000 in campaign contributions.

Platform:

• Supports strengthening security at the southern border

• Supports spending reductions and the elimination of "redundant government programs"

• Supports term limits and independent redistricting to prevent gerrymandering

• Believes government should have a limited role in health care

<h3 class="leadin">Sue Rezin of Morris </h3>

A current member of the Illinois State Senate and co-owner of a family real estate company, she has raised $246,000 in campaign contributions.

Platform:

• Supports lowering the cost of prescription drugs

• Opposes ending private health insurance

• Supports additional security at the southern border

• Supports Trump's plans for national infrastructure improvements

• Platform information comes from the candidates' websites or statements made during media interviews or public appearances.