Three vacancies in the U.S. House in the upcoming midterm elections mean new faces in Illinois’ congressional delegation will help determine the national political balance of power and the direction of statewide representation.
The three districts are linked by races that lack established but otherwise offer a study in contrasts in their history and geography.
One is a historically famous African-American seat anchored on Chicago’s South Side that dips deep into the southern suburbs. Civil rights activist Jesse Jackson’s son Jonathan Jackson hopes to become the ninth black representative in a row for heavily Democratic 1st Congressional District as he faces Republican Eric Carlson.
Another is a brand new Latino-leaning district, the 3rd Congressional District, which extends from the North-West side into the North-West and West suburbs in recognition of the state’s burgeoning Latino population. Democratic state representative Delia Ramirez is trying to step up from the statehouse to the U.S. Capitol, facing Republican Justin Burau.
The third is a downstate district created by Democrats in Springfield when they redrew the congressional maps after the 2020 census, lumping two incumbent Republicans into another district and letting them duke it out in the primary.
It resulted in a new open seat designed to have a Democratic majority of voters and includes all or parts of the cities of Champaign, Decatur, Springfield and East St. Louis. Vying for the post are a Democratic former senior adviser to Gov. JB Pritzker and a Republican who is president of a Decatur-based nonprofit.
None of those open-seat contests are considered as close as one in the northwest corner of Illinois, where Democrat Eric Sorensen and Republican Esther Joy King are closed into a contest for the 17th district now held by Democratic US Rep. Cheri Bustos, who is not running again.
The 17th has attracted national attention as one of the closest of the 435 US House races across the country. On the other hand, it would be a pity if the Democratic candidates did not win the 1st, 3rd and 13th congressional races.
Regardless of how the campaigns turn out, each will add a new member to the house.
Jackson beat 16 other Democrats in the primary to succeed retiring Democratic U.S. Representative Bobby Rush. Jackson’s family name and his father’s stature helped propel Jonathan Jackson into the 1st District general election, even though several of his Democratic rivals were well-known and well-funded.
Now he is the overwhelming favorite in his first run for public office in a district that is 49.7% black and where President Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump 70.5% to 28.1%, according to a Daily Kos analysis .
Jackson claims he doesn’t want to “be a regular freshman congressman” because of the relationships he has developed with sitting members of the House while working around the country on voter drives for his father’s Rainbow/PUSH coalition.
He said he wants to lay the groundwork to bring more high-tech manufacturing to the district as companies seek American locations to build things like batteries and other components for electric cars.
On the Republican side, Carlson has an uphill battle and has had to address that he spent almost six years in prison after being convicted 27 years ago of sexually assaulting a woman after a South Side Irish Parade.
Carlson, of Lemont, said he is reaching out to black voters on the South Side, who he said Jackson and other Democrats have taken for granted.
“The black community is sick and tired of Democrats, people who have used the black vote to set up their personal fiefdoms for decades,” Carlson said.
In it new 3rd district spanning from progressive Northwest Side Chicago neighborhoods to historically conservative towns in the far reaches of DuPage County, Ramirez is trying to close the deal on his congressional run.
Ramirez, a progressive with ties to liberal U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, said she is trying to connect with more voters in moderate and conservative suburban towns after she hit moderately Northwest side Ald. Gilbert Villegas in the Democratic primary. Although the district includes many suburbs that have historically been Republican-leaning, most of the votes in the district are still expected to be in more Democratic-leaning Chicago neighborhoods and nearby suburbs.
“I’ve done 10 to 12 meet-and-greets in DuPage in the last six months, plus door knocking,” Ramirez said. “So I think what people want is a connection, and they’re really excited about the opportunity to have someone who can speak, maybe call it speaking both languages, similar to languages, Chicago and the language of suburbia.”
Ramirez, the daughter of Guatemalan immigrants and the wife of a man who arrived from Guatemala as an undocumented immigrant and has been living in Chicago under the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program, vows to make immigration reform at the top of her agenda in Washington, DC
About 47.4% of the 3rd District’s nearly 754,000 residents are Hispanic, according to the Illinois Democratic Party. Biden won the area in the current 3rd District in 2020 with 69.7% of the vote, to 28.3% for Trump, according to Daily Kos.
The long-shot Republican in the race is Burau of suburban Winfield, a first-time political candidate and vice president of operations for a mortgage company who said his underdog campaign gives him freedom to deviate from GOP orthodoxy.
“To me, I think when you’re in Congress, your most important job is to represent the people, regardless of what party is out there,” Burau said. “I think people are refreshed by it when they hear that there is someone who is still conservative but is willing to work across the aisle.”
“Too often — especially in the Republican Party or mainly in the Republican Party — we get labeled as not being pro-immigration just because we want a secure border. But people are happy to hear when I sit here and say , that I don’t want to blow up DACA. I want to find a path to citizenship for the 40% of people who have qualified for it.”
The open third district doesn’t touch Chicago at all, and is actually a seat designed by state Democrats for their party to win in a stretch of central Illinois that has been largely inhospitable to Democratic electoral options.
The new 13th District was created when Democrats redistricted Republicans US Reps. Mary Miller and Rodney Davis into the same 15th district, which ensured that one would lose. Miller, who was publicly endorsed by Trump, won the Republican primary.
Political forecasts predictably peg the 13th District as tighter than the 1st or 3rd in the general election, with Biden winning it in 2020 by a relatively slim 54.4% to 43.2% over Trump. The new 13th District includes Champaign to the north before winding southwest through Decatur and Springfield into East St. Louis.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee recently canceled a series of television ads scheduled to air on the Champaign and St. Louis markets, indicating the Democratic campaign organization believes Democrat Nikki Budzinski of Springfield will defeat Republican Regan Deering of Decatur.
Both Budzinski and Deering are focusing on issues that affect voters’ wallets as they try to win the moderate district.
Budzinski, 45, has spent time as a union advocate for firefighters, food service workers and other workers. She has also worked as a senior adviser to Pritzker on labor issues and served as chief of staff to Biden’s Office of Management and Budget, which helped craft his administration’s coronavirus relief plan.
Deering, 46, is the grandson of a pioneering business executive at Archer Daniels Midland food processing company and has served as chairman of the Decatur Public Schools Foundation.
In an interview with the Tribune, Deering said some of her top priorities include getting inflation under control, securing the nation’s borders to prevent drug trafficking, limiting federal government spending “out of control” and trying to bring down the cost of living, especially for farmers, who she say have seen soaring prices for fertiliser.
“I hear them when they talk about infrastructure. I hear them talking about (the workforce) and looking at some other options (to) be able to get employees onto their farms,” said Deering, who has been endorsed by the Illinois Farm Bureau.
Budzinski has described the new 13th District as a “swingingly competitive district” politically, but while she is a champion of organized labor, she said issues affecting unions are partisan. She emphasized the importance of union apprenticeship programs as a “pathway to the middle class” that can lead to good wages and benefits.
“There are Republicans and Democrats in the labor movement, but what they care about most is their pocketbooks and having a good job and affordable health care,” Budzinski said. “And I don’t think it has to be a Democratic or Republican issue. It’s just a working man’s issue.”
Jeremy Gorner reported from Springfield.