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Republican challenger Oberweis holds slight advantage in northwest suburban congressional race against Underwood

With 82.5 percent of precincts counted, U.S. Rep. Lauren Underwood trails 49.6% to state Sen. Jim Oberweis’ 50.4%

U.S. Rep Lauren Underwood awaited election returns Tuesday night at her campaign headquarters in St. Charles.
Adam Mahoney/Sun-Times

As returns continued to trickle in Tuesday night, freshman U.S. Rep. Lauren Underwood was in a battle to hold onto her job — and a Democratic seat for the House — with Republican challenger Jim Oberweis.

In one of the many congressional races viewed as a referendum on President Donald Trump — with whom state Sen. Oberweis campaigned as recently as Monday — Underwood and Oberweis were neck in neck to represent far western suburbanites in the 14th District, though returns were still incomplete, particularly from mail-in ballots.

With 83.3 percent of precincts reporting, Underwood trailed Oberweis, 49.6% to 50.4%, with about 2,400 votes separating them. The congresswoman held leads in Will, Kane, and DuPage counties, while Oberweis was up in Lake, DeKalb and Kendall counties.

It wasn’t clear how many mail-in ballots remained to be counted.

Neither candidate expected a decision Tuesday night as the Democratic party nationwide expected to keep its House majority.

The 34-year-old Democrat awaited returns from her campaign headquarters in a St. Charles park of office suites, wearing a face mask and a blue pant suit over a “Phenomenal Woman” T-shirt.

“I’m new to this, so I haven’t had this particular experience — the all-night vote counting,” Underwood said around 11 p.m., noting what she called record voter turnout in her district. “But you can’t always know within hours because just as voters wait hours in line across the nation, they should not have to but they do, every ballot deserves to be counted.”

Campaign manager Raven McShane said they were waiting for Lake and McHenry counties to finish counting votes cast in person Tuesday, followed by the mail-in and early voting ballots McShane believed would keep Underwood in office.

Earlier in the night, a pickup truck bearing a large “Trump 2020” flag drove through the parking lot and two people inside screamed “Trump 2020.”

To keep supporters safe during the COVID-19 pandemic, Underwood’s celebration was online, featuring Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth and former Indiana mayor and presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg.

State Sen. Jim Oberweis, speaking on Election Night.
John Starks / Daily Herald

Oberweis, 74, of Sugar Grove, hosted his election night party in two large event rooms at the Hampton Inn & Suites in Aurora. He would not let reporters in, but outside he told ABC-7, “I’m afraid to get too excited, but it’s looking like a really good night.”

Spokesman Travis Akin said he remained optimistic the ballots cast in person would hand Oberweis a victory.

A registered nurse who lives in Naperville, Underwood ran on a health care platform critical of Republicans’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Oberweis stressed law and order and accused his opponent of being soft on people who rioted and looted in the wake of civil rights protests.

The sprawling 14th District runs from Chicago’s outer suburbs up to the Wisconsin border and includes parts of Lake, McHenry, Kane, DeKalb, Kendall, DuPage and Will counties.

Underwood pulled off a stunning upset in 2018, defeating incumbent Randy Hultgren to win her first elected office and becoming a rare Black representative in a majority white district that had voted for Trump in 2016. She was part of a blue wave that sent a new cadre of women to Congress.

Oberweis has leaned hard on Trump. The congressional candidate appeared Monday night in Kenosha, Wisconsin, at the president’s campaign rally, and Thursday, Trump headlined a virtual rally for Oberweis.

Last week he also scored an endorsement from Trump in which the president tweeted the dairy magnate “will be a terrific Congressman for Illinois! A successful businessman, he will Create Jobs, Lower Taxes, Defend Law & Order, and Protect your Second Amendment from the Radical Left. Jim has my Complete and Total Endorsement!”

Underwood has been ranked by the Center for Responsive Politics as one of the least wealthy freshmen reps in Congress, with a net worth of about $30,000. Oberweis is a millionaire known for pouring his own money into his failed campaigns dating back to 2002 and including unsuccessful bids for governor and the U.S. Senate. He has been a state senator since 2013.

Oberweis self-funded his House race, loaning his campaign $1.7 million, according to his most recent campaign finance report. He defeated six other challengers in the spring primary.

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