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House Democrats prioritize Underwood, Casten 2020 re-election

Illinois Reps. Sean Casten and Lauren Underwood listen during a January roundtable on the federal shutdown. | James Foster/For the Sun-Times

WASHINGTON — Just months after pulling off stunning upsets — and only weeks since being sworn-in to Congress — Democratic Illinois Reps. Lauren Underwood and Sean Casten are ramping up for 2020.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the Dem House political shop, on Thursday put Underwood and Casten on their list of the top 44 Democrats to defend in their “Frontline Program.”

On Friday, the Chicago Sun-Times has learned, the National Republican Congressional Committee, the GOP House political arm, will announce Underwood and Casten are among their 55 prime targets in 2020.

ANALYSIS

Underwood and Casten are two of the freshmen who flipped Republican districts last November, contributing to the Democrats winning the House.

Underwood has emerged as one of the high-profile freshmen female members, a millennial whose oft-worn green coat, purchased on sale at a J. Crew in downtown Naperville, has become a meme of its own with a Twitter handle, “Lauren Underwood’s Green Coat.”

Rep. Lauren Underwood, D-Ill., on Capitol Hill in January. | Susan Walsh/AP

Rep. Lauren Underwood, D-Ill., on Capitol Hill in January. | Susan Walsh/AP

“I swear neither I nor anyone on my staff runs Coat Twitter!” Underwood said in a recent tweet.

In Washington, Underwood, 32, shares an apartment with a California Democrat, Rep. Katie Hill, 30, another millennial member in the spotlight.

A year ago, Underwood and Casten were political unknowns. Now they have the experience of running major campaigns as they build their 2020 operations.

They won tough Democratic primaries last March. The clinched their seats in November, running in GOP suburban and exurban turf in suburbs west of Chicago.

In the 14th district, Underwood, a Naperville resident, bested former Rep. Randy Hultgren, R-Ill., 52.5 percent to 47.5 percent, according to the Illinois State Board of Elections.

In the 6th district, Casten, who lives in Downers Grove, defeated former Rep. Peter Roskam, R-Ill., 53.6 percent to 46.4 percent.

DCCC chair Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., who represents the 17th district in central and northwestern Illinois, said in a statement the frontliners will be given “access to strategic analysis, campaign guidance and fundraising prioritization to ensure they have both the resources and cutting edge information they need to execute effective reelection campaigns.”

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Underwood political adviser Ronnie Cho said, “We’re thrilled to be on the DCCC frontline. It will give us the resources to mount a winning re-election effort.”

Frontline status helps with fundraising, especially with the national Democratic donor community.

Rep. Brad Schneider, D-Ill., who represents the north suburban 10th district, is one of the three DCCC Frontline Program co-chairs.

“What I see as our role as the frontline co-chairs is working with these members to make sure they develop their goals, set their strategies,” Schneider told me.

Targeted incumbents get other boosts.

Casten is a former owner of a clean energy company, who wants to make reducing greenhouse gas emissions a signature issue. On Thursday House Speaker Nancy Pelosi appointed Casten to be on the newly created Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, a potential showcase for him.

Sean Casten | Photo by Lynn Sweet

Sean Casten | Photo by Lynn Sweet

As for 2020, Casten said, “My obligation is to win, right? And my obligation to do that is to make sure that I try to keep all the promises I made to people. And we’ve been doing that. I certainly campaigned hard on climate and don’t intend to stop that.”

The signature issue for Underwood, a nurse whose career has been in health policy and who served in the Obama administration, is health care and lowering prescription drug prices. On Wednesday Underwood, on the Education and Labor committee, quizzed experts at a hearing on the flaws in “junk plan” health insurance — policies allowed by the Trump administration limiting pre-existing condition coverage.

Lauren Underwood

Rep. Lauren Underwood, D-Ill., at her first Congressional hearing, a meeting of the Education and Labor Committee. | Lynn Sweet/Sun-Times

It’s not clear yet whether Roskam or Hultgren will seek a rematch.

Roskam is a fellow this quarter at the University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics. Hultgren was in Washington on Thursday in his role as co-chair of the 66th annual National Prayer Breakfast.

Carly Atchison, a NRCC Regional Press Secretary, told me when it comes to challenging Underwood and Casten, “We are going to recruit good, strong Republican candidates to run against them.”