Republican Congressional Challengers Line Up in the Suburbs

Just a few years ago, Congressional delegations from Chicago’s collar counties, especially ruby-red DuPage, were solidly Republican. Our first clue that something was changing came in 2006, when Democrat Melissa Bean won the 8th. That had been the most solidly Republican Congressional District in Illinois and her win was largely disregarded as a fluke. In 2012, Tammy Duckworth won in the 8th District, further eroding the GOP hold on the suburbs.

Then came the 2018 Blue Wave. All of Chicago’s near-suburbs, with districts drawn specifically to favor Republicans, are now represented by Democrats. This shift has been sudden enough to create an unusual political imbalance on the ground. Almost all of the county’s offices, including most city seats, are still held by Republicans. While Democrats control the top of the ballot, they still have very little precinct and fundraising infrastructure in DuPage. As a result, Republicans are clamoring for a shot at these suburban Congressional Districts and they still have a slim chance to claw back a few wins.

Here’s a look at characters lining up to run as Republicans in the suburbs in and around DuPage County.

CD 6 (map)

Jeannie Ives

Evelyn Sanguinetti

This is traditionally the Republican heart of the Chicago suburbs, the place where the party has the strongest, best-funded infrastructure and the most experienced candidates. It’s also the district they’re least-likely to regain, as the Trumpian tide has deeply alienated these voters. Both of the two candidates to emerge so far are seasoned and qualified, but neither of them has a way to wash off the stench of Trump.

Ives is just one thin mustache short of a Nazi. In her 2018 right-wing primary challenge against Governor Rauner she narrowly won among DuPage’s Republicans. That gives her an advantage in the upcoming primary, but it doesn’t bode well against the popular Democratic incumbent, Sean Casten. If Ives is the challenger than Casten can relax.

Sanguinetti carries the best advantage a Republican can ask for in this district – anonymity. Unlike Ives, whose nutjob politics are well-known and loathed by the district’s rising young suburbanites, Sanguinetti has a chance to fly under the radar. The Florida-born Hispanic was plucked by Bruce Rauner from her Wheaton City Council seat to serve as Lt. Governor. She was chosen for her crowning virtue, as she was the nearest thing to a minority Republicans could find statewide to wash the ticket. She served quietly and inoffensively in that role, and seems like a fairly decent person. If she could survive the primary without being Trumpified, she might have a shot, but that seems unlikely.

CD 8 (map), CD 10 (map), and CD 11 (map)

Crickets. These districts haven’t drawn a serious Republican challenger for a while. They are probably lost for the near term.

CD 14 (map)

Jim Oberweis

Ted Gradel

Sue Rezin

Allen Skillicorn

Anthony Catella

Danny Malouf

James Marter

Republicans’ loss in this district was one of the biggest surprises of the ’18 Election. This heavily white exurban district is not only a former Republican stronghold, it was taken by an African-American woman, Lauren Underwood, running her first campaign on a solidly progressive platform. And the outcome wasn’t particularly close.

This is a district Republicans believe they can claw back, but that possibility has drawn a collection of candidates that could complicate their plans. Jim Oberweis, The Underpoller, looms as a particular threat for Republicans. He has family money and a Religious Right base that has propelled him to numerous primary victories that cost Republicans crucial general elections. He is the kind of Republican that Illinois voters love to hate. A big field clogged with hobby candidates and random nutjobs plays to his strengths, and that’s just the kind of field taking shape in the 14th.

One promising newcomer, Ted Gradel, has entered the field with a celebrity boost from his former Notre Dame coach, Lou Holtz. More importantly, two experienced state legislators are eying this race. Sue Rezin has served capably in the Illinois Senate, without taking noisy positions offensive to suburban voters. Sen. Rezin joined several other suburban Republicans in voting for passage of the ERA, a position which earned her a politically advantageous slap on the wrist from pro-life groups. She hasn’t officially thrown her hat in the ring, but she’s the kind of candidate a Republican strategist would manufacture for this role. If Republicans have a chance here, she’s probably that chance.

State Rep. Allen Skillicorn is the kind of candidate who used to win in the 14th. Unfortunately for Republicans, he’s also the kind of candidate who wins Republican primaries and tanks in the general. Unlike Rezin, he’s a vocal opponent of reproductive rights who loves that MAGA Magic. He’s a hard-core StormTrumper who regularly re-Tweets right-wing commentators like Charlie Kirk. If he decides to enter the race he’ll rile up the GOP bigot vote, which will make it tougher for an otherwise solid candidate like Rezin to take the nomination. Republicans’ biggest headache in the battle to regain control of these suburban districts may be their own primary voters.

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