CHICAGO — Democrats are looking to return to dominance in Illinois on Tuesday, when the party could retake the governor's office, win all other statewide seats and flip as many as four GOP-held congressional districts.
Enthusiasm has been higher than normal, as Democrats push back against President Donald Trump and his policies and Republicans try to hold on to some power in the left-leaning state.
The four congressional districts Democrats are targeting could help them win control of the House. Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner will try for a second term against billionaire J.B. Pritzker, while Democratic state Sen. Kwame Raoul and GOP attorney Erika Harold are vying for an open attorney general seat. Democrats also look to increase their majorities in the state House and Senate.
Republican Rep. Peter Roskam of Wheaton is trying to win a seventh term in a suburban Chicago district that's been in GOP hands for four decades. Democrat Sean Casten, a scientist and businessman from Downers Grove, argues Roskam is too conservative and too cozy with the president for the 6th District, which supported Hillary Clinton over Trump in 2016. Roskam says Casten wants to raise taxes, and he's criticized the first-time candidate for name-calling and "embracing the politics of ridicule."
Democrat Lauren Underwood is challenging GOP Rep. Randy Hultgren of Plano for the 14th Congressional District seat. The Naperville nurse said she was motivated to run for her first political office after Hultgren supported health care legislation that would've made coverage of pre-existing conditions more expensive. Underwood, who's African-American, would be the first woman and first minority to represent the rural and suburban area north and west of Chicago once represented by GOP House Speaker Dennis Hastert. Hultgren says voters know he has a track record of getting things done for the district.
In central Illinois, three-term Republican Rep. Rodney Davis of Taylorville is facing Springfield Democrat Betsy Dirksen Londrigan, who's also made health care an issue. Londrigan's son had a life-threatening illness as a child, and she says her family could have faced bankruptcy if they hadn't had health insurance. She's criticized Davis for supporting legislation to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, then joining a White House celebration of the House vote. Davis says Londrigan is too extreme for the 13th District. Vice President Mike Pence headlined a fundraiser for Davis in October, and Trump's daughter, Ivanka Trump, has campaigned with him.
Republican Rep. Mike Bost of Murphysboro is facing a challenge from St. Clair County State's Attorney Brendan Kelly of Swansea in southern Illinois' 12th District. The once reliably Democratic district strongly backed Trump in 2016, and the president campaigned for Bost last month. Trump also was in the district in August, where he touted his trade policies at U.S. Steel in Granite City. Bost is a former state representative first elected to the House in 2014. Both he and Kelly are veterans — Kelly served in the Navy and Bost in the Marines. Green Party nominee Randy Auxier of Murphysboro also is running.
Democrat Kwame Raoul and Republican Erika Harold were running to replace four-term incumbent Attorney General Lisa Madigan.
The 54-year-old Raoul is a 14-year veteran of the state Senate. He was appointed to the seat in 2004 to replace the U.S. Senate-bound Barack Obama. He boasts a variety of legal experiences, including as an assistant Cook County state's attorney, and he criticizes Harold's lack of experience as a prosecutor.
Harold, an Urbana lawyer who used scholarship winnings as Miss America 2003 to get a degree from Harvard Law School, is a civil litigator who dismisses Raoul's complaints and posits herself as an able administrator willing to take on public corruption.
Critics claim that Madigan — the daughter of powerful Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan — has been slow to prosecute corruption. Harold and Raoul both pledge to do so, but the Chicago Tribune endorsed Harold as the more independent and able of the two.
Raoul has built a record in the Legislature of fighting illegal guns and restructuring workers' compensation laws to curb abuses. He says the attorney general's role has expanded in modern times to include defending taxpayers against federal overreach on issues such as the Muslim travel ban and keeping immigrant families together. He would expand the post's vigilance in fighting online sexual predators and fighting gun violence with better trauma treatment of victims who research shows sometimes become perpetrators.
Harold would fight the opioid epidemic with expanded diversion courts that send qualified criminal defendants to treatment instead of prison. She would attempt to establish a real-time database of addiction-treatment openings around the state to get people into recovery as quickly as possible.
She also wants expanded education programs for prison inmates and better re-entry programs for ex-convicts.
Libertarian Bubba Harsy of DuQuoin is also on the ballot but did not respond to a request for an interview.
Democrats, who have controlled both houses of the General Assembly for 30 of the past 42 years, look to expand their majorities after a rare and minor setback in 2016.
The biggest question for the majority party is whether it will regain a 71-seat supermajority in the House, which would give Democrats enough votes to override any veto by the governor. Senate Democrats have enjoyed a supermajority of 36 or more seats since 2007.
The biggest issue for Republicans, struggling to maintain the six seats, including four in the House, they picked off in 2016, is what they don't have: Gov. Bruce Rauner's money. The wealthy former private-equity investor and his top backers poured more than $40 million into legislative races in 2016. He's been focused on his own bid for re-election against billionaire Democrat J.B. Pritzker.
Rauner has produced $16 million this year, no small change. But it's a fraction of his contribution two years ago and is offset by more than $22 million in Democratic party-building contributions from Pritzker.