One November Race Is Set; Another Faces A Crowded Primary Contest

Feb 16, 2018

WNIJ continues to review important races in the upcoming Illinois Primary Election on March 20.  In this Friday Forum, we take a look at both the 14th Illinois Congressional District, where there is a primary competition, and the 17th District, where there isn’t.

In the 17th Illinois Congressional District, Republican Bill Fawell will challenge three-term incumbent Democrat Cheri Bustos this fall. A Galena resident who grew up in DuPage County, Fawell is alone on the ballot after Galesburg developer and businessman Mark Kleine dropped out.

“Kleine was probably the odds-on favorite here,” said Northern Illinois University political scientist Scot Schraufnagel, "but when Bustos was willing to sponsor some legislation that was going to address local concerns and benefit the local business community, he supported her in that initiative and even gave to her campaign.”

17th Congressional District Republican challenger Bill Fawell, left, and Democratic incumbent Cheri Bustos

He said Kleine faced major hurdles to unseat an incumbent like Bustos, who had more than $2.3 million cash on hand as of last fall. Moreover, Schraufnagel said, the redistricting after 2010 made the district safer for Democrats.

Fawell describes himself as “a Ron Paul-styled Republican,” which Schraufnagel interprets as having a Libertarian focus.

“Libertarianism does present sort of cross-cutting cleavages – less government involvement in sort of all aspects of society,” Schraufnagel explained. “Less government involvement in business is a popular Republican policy position, but less government involvement in people’s personal lives is also a Libertarian position and more consistent with many Democrats.”

Fawell doesn’t appear to be very well-funded, Schraufnagel said, and not very well organized. “So this looks like Cheri Bustos walks away” with the 17th District in November.

The district covers parts of Peoria, Tazewell and Winnebago counties, and all of Carroll, Fulton, Henderson, Henry, Jo Daviess, Knox, Mercer, Rock Island, Stephenson, Warren and Whiteside counties.

In the 14th Congressional District – which covers parts of DeKalb, DuPage, Kane, Kendall, Lake, McHenry and Will counties -- four-term incumbent Republican Randy Hultgren has no primary challenger.

Seven Democrats are vying for the chance to unseat Hultgren. They are retired chemical engineer George Weber; Montgomery village president Matthew Brolley, former Health and Human Services senior advisor Lauren Underwood, high-school social studies teacher Victor Swanson, law-enforcement analyst turned teacher Daniel Roldán-Johnson, salesman and school board member Jim Walz, and stock broker and businessman John Hosta.

Walz lost to Hultgren in 2016, and Hosta lost to Walz in the primary that year.

Schraufnagel sees Brolley and Underwood as “the two favorites,” based on campaign contributions and campaign spending. Brolley has the most cash on hand, followed by Underwood.

UPDATE: At the end of the fourth quarter, the most recent reporting period, Underwood had both outraised Brolley and had more cash on hand. As of December 31, 2017, Underwood had $67,754 cash on hand and Brolley had $36,732.

The candidates for Congress from the 14th Illinois District: Clockwise from top left, incumbent Republican Randy Hultgren and Democrats Matthew Brolley, Lauren Underwood, George Weber, John Hosta, Jim Walz, Daniel Roldán-Johnson, and Victor Swanson.

Here are Schraufnagel's comments on the candidates:

Matthew Brolley – “An engineer, he’s currently the village president of Montgomery. That works to his advantage; it means he’s previously won elected office. His wife is Mexican, and he tells the story that his kids are afraid that the wall would prevent them from being able to visit their grandmother in Mexico. That’s a story that resonates well with the Democratic voters that he’s trying to attract.”

Lauren Underwood – “A Registered Nurse from Naperville. She served as a senior adviser in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in the Obama Administration, so she does have some important government experience. She has a pre-existing health condition, which makes her very passionate about health care and healthcare coverage for those with pre-existing conditions.”

Victor Swanson – “A high-school social studies teacher and Navy veteran.”

Daniel Roldán-Johnson – “Another teacher – working-class background, first generation high school and college grad, he’s using that to advertise himself.”

John Hosta – “A business owner – probably the most moderate in this Democratic field; considers himself bipartisan or almost nonpartisan and takes stabs at both Democrats and Republicans. Very much a protectionist.”

George Weber – “Entering late sometimes doesn’t work to the advantage of these candidates because they’ve got to get their name out there and they’ve got to get to know people,  so just on the face of it, he would appear to be at a disadvantage in that regard.”

The 14th District was designed to be heavily Republican in the last remap, but – as Schraufnagel noted in a previous discussion – populations change and, when that happens, the politics of a district can change.

Schaufnagel says that 2016 data provide a profile of the district as about 45 percent Republican and 30 percent Democrat.

“There’s 25 percent of what we call ‘the swing’ that could go either way in the general election,” Schraufnagel explained. “When Walz finished with 41 percent in 2016, what he did was he won the 30 percent of the Dem … and 11 percent of that swing. Hultgren gets 45 percent; that’s the GOP and 14 percent of the swing. That gives him a 59-41 win and an easy Republican victory.”

The potential in November for what analysts call a “wave election,” where Democrats benefit because of the unpopularity of the current president, suggests that Hultgren is still going to win the 45 percent of the district that’s Republican, Schraufnagel said.

“The Democrats’ chance in this district would occur if that 25 percent of the swing, if 21 percent would happen to go Democrat – only four percent to Hultgren – that paints the story of a 51-49 Dem victory in what is a Republican district,” he said.

He says it’s likely that Democratic Party money will play a role in the 14th District for the general election this fall.

“We could expect the DNC to fund whoever comes out of this primary,” Schraufnagel said. “The Dems were going to focus their resources on 86 elections in 2018, and this is one of those.”