Underwood hopes winning primary formula carries over against Hultgren

Underwood hopes winning primary formula carries over against Hultgren

Lauren Underwood's victory over a crowded Democratic field in the 14th Congressional District surprised some prognosticators.

It wasn't just a win. She crushed the field by taking nearly 60 percent of the Democratic ballots cast.

Underwood, however, wasn't among those surprised. And now she has a similar plan to flip one of the most conservative districts in the northern part of the state.

Her plan in the primary involved being more than a talking head with a standard stump speech. Her tailored approach allowed her to make appearances in each part of the seven-county district, often drawing more than 100 people at each event.

Underwood said listening was key. She had to recognize each community for its unique qualities and speak to the issues those particular voters, in those particular places, wanted to hear about.

"It wasn't a one-size-fits-all approach," Underwood said. "There's a lot of diversity in the district, particularly on the northern border. There are some real similarities throughout the district, but also some real differences. We were conscious of that."

For instance, residents in Kendall and DeKalb counties care about health care, one of Underwood's central issues, but they also want to talk about infrastructure. Underwood made it clear she would support a commuter rail that would bring a Metra stop to Kendall County and a true connection between Northern Illinois University and the city of Chicago.

Health care a priority

Underwood believes voters may also have seen her as the best chance to see health care reform because of her nursing and medical background. But there, again, a tailored message was key.

"In some places, I even met people concerned about getting rid of Medicaid," Underwood said. "Given the demographics of our district, that was a surprise to me."

Underwood supports the idea that "health care is absolutely a human right." And she believes the call for a single-payer/universal coverage/Medicare for all is "a great goal."

But the details and path to making any of those plans, and their particular nuances, a reality is not yet clear. Underwood found people in the district have many different ideas of what a single-payer system would entail. For instance, some advocate a Medicare-for-all system only for people 55 and older.

"I've heard a number of proposals for what plans could look like," Underwood said. "I think of them as great first drafts. There are different cost implications and different tax implications for all of those plans. I share the goal of having affordable health coverage. But I'm really looking for a little bit of precision. I'm really interested in how much it will cost.

"We are trying to transition our health care system to be able to cover more people and get them access to medications they need, procedures they need to live healthy lives, period. I think there's a pathway to doing that through these proposals. But, right now, I think it's in the very early stages. I'm not going to champion something that is very much in the early developmental stage. We have to make sure we don't disadvantage people in our community in the transition process."

Welcomes a debate

Underwood knows she's at a disadvantage in the 14th District when it comes to the constituent voting record since the last redistricting. Hultgren has turned back every Democratic challenger since then without even having to debate them.

Underwood said she welcomes a chance to debate Hultgren, or even meet him, but she expects to receive the same cold shoulder as previous challengers.

"I don't need to stand next to Randy Hultgren for there to be a clear contrast," she said. "I think Randy Hultgren has completely abandoned our community."

Hultgren said the campaign will reveal the differences between he and Underwood.

"There will be plenty of time for the people of the 14th District to see the clear contrast between each of us on taxes, Obamacare and the role of the federal government in our lives," he said.

Underwood said she'll put Hultgren's voting record on display, believing it shows clear breaking points with even his Republican constituents. She highlighted Hultgren's vote for the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which she believes will lead to a tax increase for a majority of 14th District residents.

She also points to Gov. Bruce Rauner's criticism of the tax plan for not doing enough for the middle class and pushing employers out of the state.

"The reality is he didn't need to support that bill, but he chose to do so based on blind partisanship loyalty," Underwood said. "That's selling us out."

Hultgren supported the legislation for increasing the standard deduction and lowering the corporate tax rate. The act also included a piece of Hultgren legislation to cut the overall small business tax rate to 25 percent. After his vote, Hultgren described the legislation as "much-needed relief to the engine of Illinois' economy."

Underwood spent the March 24 weekend attending the "March for Our Lives" rally in Chicago. She sees herself as a strong part of the Millennial Generation and someone who can connect with young voters over the fears students have about school gun violence.

"I remember when Columbine happened, and I remember being terrified to go to school the next day," she said. "I thought it would never happen again, but here we are 20 years later with the same problem. We need to make sure we're able to keep them safe. That has to be a priority. And we need leadership now."

Randy Hultgren
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