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DCCC chair Lujan said Trump will ‘talk about himself more than anyone else will’

U.S. Rep. Ben Lujan, D-N.M., talking to reporters outside the Democratic National Committee headquarters.

DCCC chair Rep. Ben Lujan, D-N.M., talking to reporters outside the Democratic National Committee headquarters on Friday. | Lynn Sweet/Sun-Times

WASHINGTON – House Democrats are searching for a path to pick up 23 seats to win back control of the chamber and seats held by four Illinois Republicans are part of the House political shop’s 104-district battlefield.

That battlefield will shrink as it gets closer to November with the most resources from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and its allies going to the strongest Democrat House challengers.

For now, the four Illinois districts – two Chicago suburban slots and two Downstate “are all pickup opportunities,” DCCC Chairman Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico said at a briefing for reporters Friday morning.

That’s an optimistic assessment.

Lujan spoke hours before flying to Chicago to headline a fundraiser at the Palmer House Hilton in the Loop for three of the four Illinois hopefuls aiming at GOP incumbents: Sean Casten, running against Rep. Peter Roskam; Lauren Underwood, seeking to defeat Rep. Randy Hultgren; and Betsy Dirksen Londrigan, who is challenging Rep. Rodney Davis.

Casten, in the 6th District and Underwood in the 14th District are running on turf that sweeps through Chicago’s suburbs.

On April 25, these three, plus Brendan Kelly, who is aiming at Rep. Michael Bost, from the southern Illinois 12th District, head to Washington for another fundraiser Lujan and Illinois Democrats are hosting.

Democrats at Palmer House fundraiser at Palmer House included Rep. Ben Ray Luján; Rep. Bill Foster; Lauren Underwood; Betsy Dirksen Londrigan; Sean Casten; Rep. Jan Schakowsky.

At the Palmer House fundraiser, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Rep. Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico (left) was joined by fellow Democrats (left to right): Rep. Bill Foster; Lauren Underwood; Betsy Dirksen Londrigan; Sean Casten; and Rep. Jan Schakowsky. | Provided

Lujan is making Illinois an early focus for his fundraising travel for a practical reason: the November field is set. Most states still face party fights. The March 20 Illinois primary was the second in the nation.

The DCCC has put Kelly, Londrigan and Underwood in its premier “Red to Blue” program, created to funnel fundraising and other support to its very top-tier contenders.

Lujan suggested Casten will make the cut to get in that mix, with red-to-blue decisions made “day to day.”

The Cook Political Report ranks the Roskam and Bost seats as toss-ups and the Davis and Hultgren districts as likely Republican.

Meredith Kelly, the DCCC communications chief, said that in 2016, the DCCC spent big money in 28 races. In 2018, she said the DCCC has the budget to make major investments in 55 to 65 races.

Whether that includes the four in Illinois will depend on if they are seen as putting the DCCC on the path to 23. The DCCC puts a major premium on the ability of a candidate to raise money. Lujan suggested that health insurance and the tax package signed into law by President Donald Trump could be ripe issues for Democrats.

Roskam is a member of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee.

Democrats have been running against Trump on the theory that he is toxic to voters.

Lujan said that when talking to voters, candidates “know that people out there are tired about talking about the president.

“And the president is going to talk about himself more than anyone else will. So we don’t have to do it as Democrats. Republicans are going to have to be out there to explain for him.”