In new Hispanic congressional district, poll shows Democratic primary wide open; Ramirez has edge over Villegas

The poll underscores how Delia Ramirez, a state representative, and Gilbert Villegas, a Chicago alderman, are blank political slates waiting to be filled in.

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Ald. Gilbert Villegas; state Rep. Delia Ramirez

Ald. Gilbert Villegas; state Rep. Delia Ramirez

Sun-Times files

WASHINGTON — A poll of the newly created heavily Hispanic congressional district shows the race wide open — with state Rep. Delia Ramirez, D-Chicago, having an edge over Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th) — and how Sen. Bernie Sanders and Mayor Lori Lightfoot could be major factors.

The new 3rd Congressional District is so Democratic that the winner of the June 28 Illinois primary is the favorite to clinch the seat next November.

It is a rare open seat and, with only two main contenders, a local primary echoing national Democratic political divides — with a progressive, Ramirez, running against a more centrist Democrat, Villegas.

The Working Families Party, a national political organization backing progressives — and supporting Ramirez — took the poll, conducted by Lake Research Partners, whose founder, Celinda Lake, has deep experience in Illinois campaigns. I am doing this poll-based column because I was given a copy of the poll; I am not writing off the pollster’s summary.

Because the new 3rd was created by state Democrats in the remap to yield a Hispanic House member, it’s worth noting the poll of 400 likely 2022 Democratic primary voters — 176 men and 224 women — was conducted by telephone in English and Spanish. The poll was taken between Feb. 28 and March 3, with a 4.9% margin of error.

The new 3rd sweeps in parts of Chicago’s North Side while meandering through suburban Cook and DuPage counties. Some 29% of the respondents were from suburban Cook or DuPage counties with the rest from the city.

Some findings:


The poll underscores how Ramirez, an assistant majority leader in the House, and Villegas, the aldermanic Latino Caucus chair, are blank political slates waiting to be filled in. Their challenge is to define themselves — before their rival campaigns or their allies do.

Though they have been running for several months, voters said they don’t know much about Ramirez or Villegas: 56% said they never heard of Ramirez and 55% said they never heard of Villegas.

Asked to rate how Ramirez was doing as a state representative, 65% said they did not know, with 67% saying they did not know how Villegas was doing as an alderman.

The poll’s initial head-to-head heat included Iymen Chehade, the key figure in the House Ethics Committee probe dogging Rep. Marie Newman, D-Ill. His demand for a job from Newman in return for not running against her in 2020 from her South Side and South suburban district triggered the ethics controversy.

If the vote was taking place now, 66% said they were undecided; 19% said they were for Ramirez; 11% for Villegas and 1% for Chehade.

After reading upbeat bios to voters, Ramirez went up to 39% with Villegas at 18% and 44% undecided.


The poll asked about the “favorables” of elected officials, issues and organizations.

Putting together the “very favorable” and “somewhat favorable” responses showed “Medicare for all” with a 83% favorable; Sanders, the Vermont Independent and two-time Democratic presidential candidate with a 74% favorable; Gov. J.B. Pritzker, at 73%; Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., 71%; Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, D-Ill., at 59%; the “Green New Deal” at 49%; Chicago Police Department, 45%; former Mayor Rahm Emanuel, 39%; Lightfoot, 37%; Fraternal Order of Police, 26%; and Lincoln Yards, the North Side real estate development at 13%.

What does this mean?

For Ramirez, an endorsement from Sanders — the progressive champion — could be game changing in a district where voters — for now — seem interested in progressive issues. Garcia, who is close to Sanders, endorsed Ramirez last month, telling me, “Certainly there’s the potential for a Bernie endorsement as well. I will be exploring that with Bernie.”

Villegas was once Lightfoot’s floor leader, resigning the post on Feb. 2, 2021. Still, since there is no statute of limitations in politics, Villegas could be saddled with an association with the relatively unpopular Lightfoot and Emanuel and votes he has taken dealing with the Chicago police and Lincoln Yards.

Said Joe Dinkin, the National Campaigns Director at the Working Families Party, “This district is going to elect a Democrat. But what kind of Democrat matters tremendously.”

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