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Illinois US House races feed into Washington power balance

Illinois' newly redrawn 17th district will be one of the U.S. House election races to watch Tuesday as rookie candidates battle to fill the vacancy left by retiring Democratic Rep. Cheri Bustos

Claire Savage
Tuesday 08 November 2022 11:00 GMT

Tuesday's U.S. House race in Illinois’ newly redrawn 17th district could be key to whether Democrats hang on to their slim majority in the U.S. House, as rookies battle to fill the vacancy left by retired Democratic Rep. Cheri Bustos.

The district stretches from Rockford in the north to Peoria and Bloomington in central Illinois.

Illinois lost one of its 18 House seats after the 2020 census. Democrats, who control state government and redistricting in Illinois, received pushback for the new maps from Republicans and beyond.

Esther Joy King, a lawyer who serves in the Army Reserve, is the Republican candidate in the district. In 2020, King came within a few percentage points of ousting Bustos, who was running for a fifth term.

Top on King’s priority list are agriculture and bipartisan cooperation, which she says are key to serving the district's needs.

King faces Democrat Eric Sorensen, a Rockford native who worked as a meteorologist in Rockford and the Quad Cities for nearly 20 years.

For Sorensen, whose tagline is “Forecasting a Bright Future for Illinois,” addressing inflation and shoring up reproductive rights are the foremost issues.

He is calling for bipartisan efforts to bring down costs for food, healthcare and gas, and says he disagrees with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, which struck down constitutional protection for abortion. Safe and legal abortion is a reproductive right and constitutes a healthcare matter between a woman and her doctor, according to Sorensen.

His campaign clashed with King’s over the issue when a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee advertisement claimed King’s pro-life stance would ban abortions in Illinois, even in cases of rape or incest.

King said during an Oct. 3 debate that she supports exceptions in cases of rape, incest, or threat to the life of the mother, and would oppose a federal abortion ban.

The race for the 13th district — which spans Champaign, Decatur and Springfield in central Illinois down to east St. Louis in the southwest — is also being watched.

Redistricting bumped incumbent Rep. Rodney Davis into a different district, where he lost to Rep. Mary Miller, who was endorsed by former President Donald Trump. Aiming to fill the gap are Democrat Nikki Budzinski from Peoria and Republican Regan Deering of Decatur.

Budzinski is a labor activist, former Biden administration staffer and senior advisor to Gov. J.B. Pritzker. She is running on rebuilding the middle class.

“Working people are struggling right now with rising costs, and I want to go to Congress to be their fighter,” she said in an Oct. 6 debate, where she expressed support for protecting Medicare and Social Security, a woman’s right to choose and funding for public schools.

For Deering, a philanthropist and former educator, securing the U.S. border with Mexico and reining in “reckless spending” are her priorities.

Just west of Chicago, U.S. Rep. Sean Casten, a Democrat representing Illinois’ 6th district, is running for reelection against Republican Keith Pekau, mayor of Orland Park, a town about 30 miles (48 kilometers) southwest of Chicago. In a show of last-minute support, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy campaigned with Pekau at a fundraising event outside of Chicago four days before the election.

Casten has raised and spent over four times more than his opponent on his quest for a third term, according to the Federal Election Commission.

The former scientist soundly defeated incumbent Rep. Marie Newman for the Democratic nomination, after redistricting merged their districts.


Savage is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.


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