WASHINGTON — Democratic House hopeful Sean Casten, a political newcomer taking on Rep. Peter Roskam, R-Ill., in the biggest November Chicago area House race, is getting a fundraising boost later this month from top Democrats in Illinois and Washington.
Democrats need 23 seats to seize control of the House, and Roskam’s 6th Congressional District slot is a prime pickup opportunity.
A sign of the changing suburban politics: About 10 percent more Democrats than Republicans pulled ballots in the March 20 primary in 6th District turf that sweeps in parts of suburban Cook, DuPage, Kane, McHenry and Lake counties.
On April 13, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chair Rep. Ben Ray Luján D-N.M., headlines a fundraiser at the Palmer House Hilton, 17 E. Monroe, for Casten and three other Democrats running for Illinois seats held by Republicans, according to an invitation obtained by the Sun-Times.
On April 25 in Washington, Lujan, Illinois Democratic Senators Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth, and Illinois House Democrats Cheri Bustos; Danny Davis; Bill Foster; Robin Kelly; Jan Schakowsky; Brad Schneider and Mike Quigley co-host a Capitol Hill funder to benefit Casten and three other Illinois contenders.
The event is targeting donations from political action committees, according to an invitation obtained by the Sun-Times.
The four Illinois Democratic nominees in play for the fundraising boost are:
• Casten, a former energy company executive from Downers Grove, who bested six rivals in the March 20 primary to win with 29.9 percent of the vote. Roskam, a Wheaton resident, first won election to Congress in 2006 and did not face a March primary opponent.
• Betsy Dirksen Londrigan of Springfield, another first-time candidate, is challenging Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., of Taylorville in the 13th Congressional District anchored in central Illinois.
• Lauren Underwood of Naperville, a nurse who worked at the Department of Health and Human Services during the Obama administration, is aiming at Rep. Randy Hultgren, R-Ill., of Plano in the 14th Congressional District that takes in portions of west suburban Chicago.
• The Washington event will also benefit Brendan Kelly, from downstate Swansea, the State’s Attorney of St. Clair County, is pitted against Rep. Michael Bost, R-Ill., of Murphysboro, in the 12th Congressional District that takes in part of southern Illinois.
ROSKAM VS CASTEN
Democratic turnout in the 6th District was swelled by newly energized Democrats who mobilized in the wake of the election of President Donald Trump. National Democrats started to target the 6th after Hillary Clinton won the district in 2016.
In 2014, the comparable midterm election year, about 8,750 voters pulled Democratic ballots in the 6th, about 12 percent of total ballots, compared to, in 2018, about 68,608 Democratic ballots, or 55 percent of the total.
Running against five women likely helped Casten, as well as key decisions to focus on DuPage County and position himself as the “moderate” in a field where others were racing to claim the progressive crown.
“He was not out there fighting for the mantle of (being) the most progressive,” Casten campaign manager Michael Garton told me when we talked on Wednesday. While rivals moved to the left, “He just stayed in the lane that he built.”
DuPage votes were crucial to Casten’s win. He had just over 12,000 to almost 8,000 for his closest rival, Kelly Mazeski, of Barrington Hills, who had been seen as the front-runner, running with key Democrat establishment support. Mazeski won the Cook, Kane, McHenry and Lake precincts, but that did not make up for DuPage turnout.
When it comes to money, Roskam has a giant running start. His perch on the Ways and Means Committee is helpful, as well as not having to pay for a primary. As of Feb. 28, Roskam’s Federal Election Commission reports showed $1,773,960 cash-on-hand.
Casten’s reports show a balance of $503,013. Casten loaned his campaign $630,000. “He’ll put in whatever he needs to win,” Garton said, but “not a blank check.
The race promises to be potentially rich in substance: taxes, health, climate, energy and gun policy. But this will also be, based on my interviews with both camps, a referendum on Trump and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
Roskam, who had been avoiding town halls and publicly announced events, the day after the primary called on Casten to debate.