GOP, Democrats battle for 4 Illinois congressional districts
CHICAGO -- Republican congressmen in four Illinois districts are fighting to keep their seats as Democrats' effort to take control of the House reaches new battlegrounds, including areas the GOP has held for decades.
Invigorated Democrats, motivated largely by opposition to President Donald Trump, have talked for months about a "blue wave" that could flip the 23 seats the party needs to claim the House. They're looking to Illinois to help them get there, and say people are registering their displeasure not just by voting, but by knocking on doors and calling voters.
"Democratic candidates across Illinois are benefiting from this surge in enthusiasm, and have tremendous grassroots support to help them deliver their message and get voters to the polls," said Sean Savett, a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman.
The party in the White House typically loses seats in the first midterm after a presidential election, but Republicans say they're not ceding ground. The Republican National Committee is spending $275 million in races across the U.S. this cycle, and has made more than 600,000 voter contacts in Illinois. Trump was in southern Illinois Saturday to campaign with two-term Rep. Mike Bost.
"We are doing everything that we can do defy history," said RNC spokeswoman Ellie Hockenbury.
Here's a look at the battlegrounds:
Candidates: GOP Rep. Peter Roskam of Wheaton, Democrat Sean Casten of Downers Grove
The district: Chicago's west and northwest suburbs.
The race: Democrats pinned Illinois' 6th District - long a safe GOP seat - as a top 2018 target after voters there backed Hillary Clinton over Trump by seven percentage points in 2016.
Casten, a scientist and businessman who's never held public office, has argued Roskam is too conservative for the increasingly diverse district. He's hit the six-term congressman on issues like abortion rights, which Roskam has a long record of opposing, and attacked his ties to Trump.
Roskam says it's Casten who's too extreme, and has criticized him for name calling and "mean tweets." Roskam has touted his role as an architect of the GOP tax bill, which he says means a $1 billion tax cut for the district, and warned that Casten wants to hike taxes.
Candidates: GOP Rep. Mike Bost of Murphysboro, Democrat Brendan Kelly of Swansea, Green Party candidate Randy Auxier of Murphysboro
The district: Southwestern and southern Illinois, including communities east of St. Louis, and Illinois' southernmost tip.
The race: Bost is a longtime state representative who won the congressional seat in 2014, two years before voters in the once reliably Democratic district backed Trump by almost 15 percentage points over Clinton. Bost says it was the inevitable outcome in a district that has been slowly growing more Republican, and where steel workers and coal miners feel abandoned by the Democratic party.
But Democrats remain hopeful about taking it back. They recruited Kelly, a Navy veteran and St. Clair County state's attorney with local roots. He's campaigned on a platform of "saving" southern Illinois, which includes investing in infrastructure and getting big money out of politics.
Trump held a rally with Bost in the congressman's hometown Saturday, after also campaigning in the district in August, when he stopped at U.S. Steel in Granite City.
Candidates: GOP Rep. Rodney Davis of Taylorville, Democrat Betsy Dirksen Londrigan of Springfield
The district: Central Illinois and parts of southwestern Illinois.
The race: Londrigan, like Democrats across the country, has made health care and coverage of pre-existing conditions the centerpiece of her campaign. She talks often of the life-threatening illness her son had as a child, and how it could have bankrupted her family if they hadn't had insurance. And she's criticized Davis for voting for a GOP bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.
Davis credits the GOP tax bill for low unemployment and the strong economy, and says he's worked with the Trump administration to help the district. Vice President Mike Pence held a fundraiser for the three-term congressman, and other GOP officials also have made stops in the district, which includes the University of Illinois and Illinois State University as well as more rural areas.
Candidates: GOP Rep. Randy Hultgren of Plano, Democrat Lauren Underwood of Naperville
The district: Chicago's far western, northwest and north suburbs, rural areas of northern Illinois.
The race: Underwood is a nurse who worked in the administration of former President Barack Obama. She has a manageable heart condition, and says she decided to take on Hultgren because of his vote for health care legislation that would have made coverage of pre-existing conditions more expensive.
Hultgren is a former state lawmaker who was elected in 2010 to represent the district, which was once held by former House Speaker Dennis Hastert. He has also stressed the strong economy, and credited the GOP tax bill for economic and job growth.
Hultgren has easily won re-election since taking office, and the district supported Trump in 2016. But Underwood has garnered national attention - from the cover of Time magazine to lending her name to a Ben & Jerry's ice cream flavor. She raised more than $2 million in the third quarter - more than four times what Hultgren raised during the same period.