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Underwood visits border; Republicans lining up to challenge freshman Democrat

Illinois Reps. Sean Casten and Lauren Underwood are two out of the 51 major offensive National Republican Congressional Committee targets heading into the 2020 election cycle. | James Foster/For the Sun-Times

WASHINGTON — Honchos at the National Republican Congressional Committee last week huddled with GOP Illinois state Sens. Jim Oberweis and Sue Rezin about a possible 2020 run against freshman Rep. Lauren Underwood, D-Ill.

While Oberweis and Rezin were in D.C. to explore a 14th Congressional District bid, NRCC folks have also been talking to former Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti about a challenge to freshman Rep. Sean Casten, D-Ill. in the 6th, according to a NRCC spokeswoman, Carly Atchison.

Oberweis and Rezin “filled us in on progress with their potential campaigns,” Atchison said.

In 2018, Casten and Underwood were political unknowns. Both ousted long-time Republican incumbents, former Reps. Peter Roskam and Randy Hultgren, who so far are not looking for comebacks.

Casten and Underwood, who represent suburban districts north, south and west of Chicago — and Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., the chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee — are three out of the 51 major offensive NRCC targets heading into the 2020 cycle.

The NRCC and the DCCC are the House political operations for the parties.

My analysis: The NRCC put Bustos on their list as a political ploy to try to distract her. Bustos has a strong track record of winning on her western Illinois GOP, Trump-supporting turf and will be very difficult to distract.

Besides Rezin, from Morris, and Oberweis, from Sugar Grove — a perennial when it comes to seeking federal office — former Navy officer Matthew Quigley, from Naperville, and Daniel Malouf, a Crystal Lake human resources manager, are already running against Underwood.

Quigley and Malouf have filed papers with the Federal Election Commission; Rezin and Oberweis have not.

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Underwood, the vice chair of the full House Homeland Security Committee — the vice chair spot is a plum perch — departed Friday for a trip to El Paso and McAllen, Texas to assess the southern border situation.

This is her first official congressional travel.

In El Paso, Underwood visited an Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency detention facility and met with a U.S.-Mexico business group, the Borderplex Alliance in the wake of Trump’s threats to close the border.

In McAllen, she met with officials from the ACLU and visited a Border Patrol processing facility — the one in the spotlight last summer for holding kids in cages.

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Gov. J.B. Pritzker and his wife, M.K., are hosting a “model” Passover seder at the governor’s mansion on Monday, with several staffers, rabbis from Illinois and friends among the invitees. Passover begins April 19.

More: Pritzker and Attorney General Kwame Raoul hit Washington this week to attend events related to the 2019 North American Building Trades Unions Legislative Conference. Pritzker speaks to the group Tuesday morning and heads back to Springfield.

Raoul attends a building trades dinner Monday. On Tuesday, he testifies before a House Appropriations Committee panel.

Raoul will be a witness for the Labor, Health, Human Services and Related Agencies subcommittee hearing on “Combatting Wage Theft: The Critical Role of Wage and Hour Enforcement.”

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Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley headlined a fundraiser in Chicago for the NRCC on March 28, hosted by Rep. Darin LaHood, R-Ill.

BTW … The Chicago-based Boeing board of directors nominated Haley, the former South Carolina governor, to be on the board. Her formal election is at the April 29 annual meeting to start at 9 a.m. at the Field Museum, 1400 S. Lake Shore Drive, coming as the company is under fire for the 737 MAX Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes.

More on LaHood: He is taking on his first significant high profile NRCC chores. The Chicago event fed into his duties as chair of the NRCC annual spring dinner held last week, which raised $23 million. President Donald Trump headlined the event. That’s were he falsely said “windmills” — perhaps he meant wind turbines — “caused cancer.”

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Bustos, as chair, picked Chicago to host an “issues conference,” on May 17-19, to include House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other top House Democratic leaders and members.

The conference, at the Palmer House Hilton in the Loop, is a perk for top DCCC donors and allies, such as union brass, who will get to meet and mingle with the lawmakers. The program includes a trip to Old Town for a Second City show.