Illinois Primaries: Ratings Changes in Two Races

by Nathan L. Gonzales March 21, 2018 · 9:30 AM EDT

The Illinois primaries are in the books, setting the stage for an important set of congressional elections in November. ;

Assuming Democrat Conor Lamb is certified as the winner of the special election in Pennsylvania’s 18th District, Democrats still need a net gain of 23 seats to win the House majority. That’s a big enough gap that Democrats, instead of cherry picking victories around the country, need to pick up a handful of seats in a few places. Illinois might be one of those states. 

At this point, it feels like Democrats expect to gain at least two seats based on their confidence in a suburban surge in the 6th District and the strength of their nominee in the 12th District. A great night for Democrats would include victories in the 13th and 14th districts as well. 

All four GOP-held seats could become even more vulnerable if the national political environment turns further away from Republicans, and if GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner’s re-election chances tank at the top of the ballot.

Governor. Billionaire businessman JB Pritzker defeated businessman Chris Kennedy and state Sen. Daniel Biss in the Democratic primary. The Democratic nomination is valuable considering Hillary Clinton won Illinois 56-39 percent over Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential race. 

Rauner was elected 50-46 percent in 2014 over embattled Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn, but Rauner struggled in Tuesday’s GOP primary against state Rep. Jeanne Ives, who embodied conservative criticism against the governor. Rauner raised income taxes and increased funding for abortions

It’s clear that Rauner has problems within the Republican base, a dynamic that no statewide GOP candidate can afford. In 2016, Republican Sen. Mark Kirk ran for re-election but got sideways with grassroots Republicans by opposing Trump and lost to Democratic Rep. Tammy Duckworth 55-40 percent. Pritzker certainly isn’t a perfect candidate considering his connections to infamous Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich, but he’s still a Democrat in a Democratic state in a Democratic year. The biggest winner in the race might be local television stations after two mega-rich nominees battle in what could be the most expensive gubernatorial race in history.

We’re changing our rating from Tilt Democratic to Lean Democratic. 

3rd District. Rep. Dan Lipinski narrowly survived a primary challenge from marketing consultant Marie Newman 51-49 percent in the Chicago-area district. The race drew national attention as party activists sought to rid Lipinski from their party for his opposition to abortion rights and voting against the Affordable Care Act. Newman had support from EMILY’s List, Planned Parenthood, NARAL Pro-Choice America, The Human Rights Campaign and Daily Kos Elections, as well as New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Illinois Reps. Luis Gutierrez and Jan Schakowsky. Clinton won the district with 55 percent, so there is virtually no chance of a Republican takeover in this political environment, putting increased importance on the Democratic primary. Rating: Solid Democratic.

4th District. Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia defeated nonprofit executive Sol Flores in the Democratic primary in a solid Democratic district that includes part of northwest Chicago and the lower West Side. Democratic Rep. Luis Gutierrez is not seeking re-election. Garcia had some built-in name identification in the expensive Chicago media market as a local elected official and unsuccessful run for mayor of Chicago in 2015. Flores was endorsed by EMILY’s List. Clinton won the 4th District with 82 percent in 2016. Garcia joins Texas Republican Van Taylor and Texas Democrats Sylvia Garcia and Veronica Escobar as likely new Members of the next Congress. Rating: Solid Democratic 

6th District. Barrington Hills Planning Commissioner Kelly Mazeski and clean energy advocate Sean Casten were locked in a tight battle for the Democratic nomination. Former congressional aide Carole Cheney and 2016 nominee Amanda Howland were third and fourth. The winner will face GOP Rep. Peter Roskam in a suburban Chicago district full of voters who could punish the congressman in their upheaval against President Trump. Clinton won the seat 50-43 percent in 2016. Roskam survived the 2006 Democratic wave by winning a competitive open seat against Tammy Duckworth. This will be a new challenge for the congressman under the current electoral conditions. Rating: Move from Lean Republican to Tilt Republican.

8th District. It’s been quite a journey for Democrat Raja Krishnamoorthi. He lost the 2012 Democratic primary to Tammy Duckworth in a newly-drawn district, won the competitive 2016 Democratic primary to replace Duckworth when she ran for the Senate, and then was unopposed as an incumbent in Tuesday’s primary. Rating: Solid Democratic.

10th District. This suburban Chicago district bounced back and forth between Democratic Rep. Brad Schneider and former GOP Rep. Bob Dold for years. And in a different election climate, this seat could become a GOP takeover opportunity once again, but not with President Trump in the White House. With votes still being counted, Douglas Bennett was outpacing Jeremy Wynes and Sapan Shah for the GOP nomination. Any of them will lose in November. Rating: Solid Democratic.

12th District. St. Clair County State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly won the Democratic nomination and will face GOP Rep. Mike Bost in the general election. Kelly is regarded as a top-tier challenger but in a Downstate district that Trump won with 55 percent. In retrospect, Bost’s 2014 race was early evidence of Trump’s success in 2016. In 2018, this is the type of race Democrats probably need to win for a majority and likely would win in a Democratic wave. Rating: Lean Republican. 

13th District. Betsy Dirksen Londrigan, a former fundraiser for Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin, won the Democratic nomination over former congressional staffer/former Illinois assistant attorney general Erik Jones and others. Perennial candidate David Gill has been a thorn in Democrats’ side in previous cycles but looked destined to finish a distant third or fourth. Londrigan had support from Durbin and EMILY’s List and will face GOP Rep. Rodney Davis in the general election. Trump won the central Illinois district with nearly 50 percent, but the race could certainly get more competitive. Rating: Likely Republican. 

14th District. Former Health & Human Services official Lauren Underwood won the Democratic nomination in a seven-candidate field. Comedian Andy Richter's brother, Victor Swanson, was in fourth place on Tuesday night with votes still being counted. Underwood had $165,000 in her campaign account on Feb. 28 and will face GOP Rep. Randy Hultgren ($485,000) in a exurban Chicago district that Trump won 49-45 percent in 2016. This district was drawn by Democrats as a Republican vote sink during the last round of redistricting. But the suburban surge against President Trump could pull this district back into play. Rating: Solid Republican.

15th District. GOP Rep. John Shimkus defeated state Sen. Kyle McCarter 60-40 percent in the 2016 Republican primary. McCarter made noise about running again early in the cycle but Shimkus took the nomination unopposed on Tuesday. Trump won the district, which includes Danville, Wabash River Valley and outer St. Louis suburbs, with 71 percent, so it’s not particularly vulnerable to a Democratic takeover in November. But don't be surprised if this is an open seat in 2020. Rating: Solid Republican. 

17th District. Republican Bill Falwell won his party's nomination without opposition after wealthy businessman Mark Kleine dropped out before the primary. But Falwell hadn't filed with the Federal Election Commission through the pre-primary period, meaning he hadn't raised or spent more than $5,000 as of February 28. Bustos had nearly $2.6 million in the bank and will be able to boast about winning re-election over another under-funded opponent in a northwest Illinois district that Trump won with 47 percent in preparation for the 2020 presidential race or a spot on a 2020 ticket as a running mate. Rating: Solid Democratic.