In 2020, Rep. Cheri Bustos was on the ascendancy. Held up as a model for how Democrats could win back the working class white voters they lost to Donald Trump, Bustos received votes for Speaker of the House, and was picked to helm the House Democrats’ campaign arm as the party anticipated making significant gains.
Two years later, Democrats have a diminished, not expanded, House majority, Bustos is headed for the exits, and — despite the best efforts of the Illinois state legislature — her seat could be filled by a Republican after all.
The battle for Illinois’ 17th District binds together several threads playing out in races across the country. It’s an open seat — one of many Democrats are defending. It was substantially altered by redistricting — either “artfully” or “torturously,” depending on who you ask. It features a GOP nominee who nearly pulled off an upset in 2020 and is back and better prepared for Round 2. And it’s chock full of both the suburbs and the exurbs that have been the featured political battlegrounds of the past decade.
The 17th is one of 14 competitive districts where the Democratic incumbent is not seeking re-election. And it’s one of nine districts Joe Biden would have carried in 2020 with no Democratic incumbent in 2022, such as Rhode Island’s 2nd, Pennsylvania’s 17th, and New York’s 3rd, where the incumbent’s decision not to run again makes the race much more precarious for the party.
Democrats already faced steep odds in the fight to…