Democratic Congressmember Lauren Underwood Wins Tough Illinois Re-Election Fight—Congratulations! November 22, 2020
Democrats, let’s stop being so downcast about the 11/03/2020 election. Our presidential candidate Joe Biden and his VP running mate Kamala Harris received nearly 80 million votes across the country, the most votes cast for any presidential candidate in U.S. history by a considerable margin (AP, 11/21/20, cnn.com, 11/21/20, Wolf). Biden leads Trump by over 6 million votes (Wolf, cnn.com). This number will likely grow. Amid a global pandemic, the 2020 election had the highest voter turnout in more than a century. Biden won with the same Electoral College total 306-232 by which Donald had beaten Hillary in 2016. Biden flipped back PA, WI, and MI to “Column Blue,” the states that had given Donald his upset 2016 Electoral College victory. Biden also flipped AZ and GA into the “Blue” camp, states that have not voted for a Democratic presidential ticket since Bill Clinton’s time in the 1990’s (Fowers, Mirza, and Emamdjomeh, washingtonpost.com, 11/13/20).
Why, therefore, are Democrats afflicted with a bad case of gloom and doom? The House and Senate races didn’t go as predicted and we were not able to flip state house chambers to help us with post-2020 redistricting. Yes, Democrats kept the House which they had taken back from “Team Red” in 2018. However, instead of increasing their margins in that chamber as many pollsters and analysts had predicted, “Team Blue”, will probably lose anywhere from 8-10 seats, giving them a very narrow majority (nytimes.com, Fandos & Kaplan, 11/18/20). How did this happen? Because Demagogue Donald increased his 2016 vote total by over 7 million votes in the 73 million plus range. Many GOP members remain diehard MAGA fans blindly devoted to Donald. Whenever his name appears on the ballot, they show up “big time” for him and cast down ballot votes for anyone with an “R” next to his/her name (See nytimes.com, dlcc.org, nytimes.com, Tavernise, 11/04/20). In the Senate, rural Trump fans throughout the country, similarly, voted in lock step for the GOP gang. Yes, we flipped two Senate seats in AZ and CO where former astronaut Mark Kelly and former Gov. John Hickenlooper respectively won their races. However, we lost Dem. Doug Jones in “ultra-ruby” AL (no surprise). We also face an uphill battle on 1/05/2021 GA to get two Dems. John Ossoff and Raphael Warnock to win U.S. Senate races.
However, to quote former Lakers basketball coach Phil Jackson, “a win is a win.” Again, Democrats won both the presidency and the House. And the trends remain in “Team Blue’s” favor. Formerly “Reagan Country,” CA’s Orange County (the OC), went Democratic for the third straight time since 2016. It went for Biden by at least 53.7% of the vote (11/07/2020, latimes.com). Yes, we lost both OC’s La Habra/Fullerton Dem. Cong. Gil Cisneros and Huntington Beach/ Newport Beach Dem. Rep. Harley Rouda. However, “Team Blue” took the remaining 5 congressional seats located in Orange County.
As House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) correctly noted, without Donald on the ballot in 2018, Democrats gained 40 seats and took back the House. With Donald on the ballot in 2020 it would be a steeper climb to hold many of those first-term members. However, Democrats have won or are ahead in at least 70% of the races in 30 of those 40 districts that Trump won in 2016 (latimes.com, Wire, 11/05/20). Illinois first-term Congressmember Lauren Underwood was losing on the day after the election, 11/04/2020. However, on 11/12/2020, this race was called for Underwood (O’Connell, P., 11/05/20, chicagotribune.com, @AP_Politics, 11/12/20). Let’s look at this contest.
Lauren Underwood (34), re-elected to her second term in the U.S. House, currently represents IL’s 14th Congressional District (CD). The IL 14th is located in the northwestern part of the Chicago exurbs, west of Chicago. The IL 14th goes through seven of Chicago’s collar counties, including most of Kendall and McHenry Counties and chunks of Kane and western Lake Counties. In the 14th’s Lake County section, suburbs include Wauconda, Deer Park, and Volo. About 55% of the 14th’s voters reside in McHenry and Kane Counties. The 14th contains small parts of Will, DeKalb, and DuPage Counties. The 14th’s Huntley, the site of Del Webb’s Sun City, claims to be the largest Midwest retirement city, with about 9,000 residents. The 14th includes Batavia-based Fermilab. Fermilab contains a particle physics and accelerator laboratory with 1,750 employees (Cohen & Cook 2020 Political Almanac).
The 14th CD is the most GOP-leaning district in the Chicago suburbs, with a Cook Partisan Voting Index (PVI) of R+5. McHenry and Kendall Counties have been solidly GOP and the 14th’s Kane and western Lake County have “Red”-leaning sections. The 14th CD is 79% white and only 3% black and is the least ethnically diverse of all the Chicago area districts. The 14th CD remains among the wealthiest 10% CDs in the nation. Democrats still can run competitively here. Obama carried the area of the present 14th with 50% of the vote in 2008. In 2016, Trump beat Hillary by a 4% margin (Cohen & Cook 2020 Almanac).
Lauren Underwood grew up in Naperville, IL, a few miles outside of the IL 14th. African American Underwood received her 2008 undergraduate B.S. degree in nursing from the University of Michigan and Masters’ degrees in both nursing and public health in 2009 from Johns Hopkins University. She is a Registered Nurse (RN). As a special assistant to President Obama, Underwood advised communities on how to respond to disaster and public health emergencies. In 2016, Obama appointed Underwood as a senior advisor at the Dept. of Health and Human Services (HHS). At HHS, Underwood worked on implementing the Affordable Care Act, aka, Obamacare. She advised local governments on steps to maximize cost-efficient care and taught nurses at Georgetown University (Cohen & Cook Almanac).
In 2018, Underwood challenged 4th-term IL 14th GOP Cong. Randy Hultgren who had never faced a serious re-election challenge. Underwood, who has a pre-existing heart condition, stated that Hultgren’s vote to repeal Obamacare spurred her to run against him. She called him “a career politician with little to show for it.” Underwood attacked Hultgren for “not putting partisanship aside and not making progress on the issues that matter to our community.” After handily winning her primary, Underwood, in “Blue” wave year 2018 defeated Hultrgen by a 7% margin. Despite the GOP-lean of the 14th, Underwood, with strong financial support from Democrats and women’s groups, won all seven of the 14th’s Chicago collar counties, with her largest margin in Kane County, which cast one-fourth of the vote. Normally, African Americans don’t have success in affluent heavily white districts. However, Underwood’s gender and her health policy expertise were more influential in the 2018 election outcome. Her win was considered a big upset. Underwood became the youngest black woman to serve in Congress (See Cohen &Cook 2020, O’Connell, P., Chicago Tribune).
In her first House term, Cong. Underwood sat on the Education & Labor, Homeland Security, and Veterans’ Affairs (Cohen & Cook 2020). She has a strong progressive record and in the current 116th Congress, voted with Demagogue Donald only 4.7% of the time (Bycoffe, projectsfivethirtyeight.com). In the House, rookie Underwood wrote four bills that Trump signed into law. These included laws aiming to make cheaper generic insulin more quickly available and the Veterans’ Care Quality Transparency Act (underwood.house.gov, 12/23/19, congress.gov). In 2019, Time Magazine listed Cong. Underwood as one of the Most 100 Influential People (time.com).
Running in 2020 for a second term, Cong. Underwood faced GOPer Jim Oberweis. Oberweis (74), an IL State Senator since 2013, is the owner of Oberweis Dairy, his North Aurora family business. Oberweis was also active in the Oberweis Asset Management (OAM) a firm that works with individual investors and mutual funds, which had about $2 billion under management (Murphy, L., 11/14/1994, ilga.gov/senate, chicagosuntimes.com, Sweet, 11/12/2020). He has a Bachelor’s degree from the University of IL at Urbana-Champaign and an MBA from the University of Chicago (web.archive.org, “Alumni Hall of Fame,” 5/12/08).
Oberweis is best known for his repeated attempts to win high political office. In 2002, he unsuccessfully ran in the GOP primary for U.S. Senate (“IL State Bd. of Elections,”3/31/15). In 2004, Oberweis again lost the GOP U.S. Senate primary. In 2004, that Senate seat was won by Democrat Barack Obama (“IL State Bd. of Elections,” indystar.com, 7/05/08). In 2006, Oberweis lost the GOP primary for Gov. of IL (“IL State Bd. of Elections”). In 2008, although Oberweis won the primary for the special election to replace 14th CD GOP Cong. Dennis Hastert, Oberweis lost the March 2008 special congressional election to his Democratic rival Bill Foster. Foster defeated Oberweis again in 11/2008 (“IL State Bd. of Elections). In 2012, Oberweis won a seat in the IL State Senate. He was re-elected in 2016. In 2014, while in the IL Senate, Oberweis won the GOP primary for the U.S. Senate, but was clobbered in the general election by Dem. incumbent Richard Durbin by a 10% plus margin (chicagotribune.com, Skiba & Geiger, 11/04/14, General Election, 2014). In 10/2018, Oberweis was appointed State Senate GOP Whip (wspynews.com, 1/17/19).
In 2020, Oberweis won the GOP House primary to challenge Cong. Underwood (thehill.com, 3/20/20, Axelrod, T.). Unlike in “Blue” wave midterm year 2018 when Underwood defeated GOP incumbent Cong. Hultgren by 14,871 votes, the Trump voters in the 14th CD made this election a surprisingly close one for Underwood. Over 400,000 members of the 14th cast votes, a very high turnout (chicagosuntimes.com, Sweet, 11/18/20). The day after the election, 11/04/2020, Underwood was losing by 900 votes and Oberweis declared himself the winner. However, after mail-in and provisional ballots were counted, the AP (Associated Press) declared Underwood the winner on 11/12/2020. The latest and likely final vote counts reported on 11/18/2020, gave Underwood a lead of 5,377 votes (chicagotribune.com, chicagosuntimes.com, Sweet, 11/18/20). According to the AP, Cong. Underwood received 203,195 votes or 50.7% of the vote, to Oberweis’ 197, 818 or 49.3%, a 1.4% margin (AP, chicaogosuntimes.com, 11/18/20). The 203, 195 votes Underwood received were more votes than any congressional candidate in the 14th CD’s history (dailyhearald.com, Lissau, 11/22/20). Democrats in IL and throughout the nation were encouraged to vote by mail and voted strongly that way in the 14th CD and throughout the country during the COVID pandemic (Lissau, dailyhearld.com). Oberweis traveled to D.C. to attend a freshman orientation seminar and is looking into a recount over possible “illegal votes.” However, his spokesman indicated that if a review confirms that he lost, “he (Oberweis) is a gentleman and will do the right thing.” Well, at least, Oberweis is acting better than Trump, GSA head Emily “no transition money for Biden” Murphy, Rudy Giuliani, and the wacko GOP board members in Detroit who tried to decertify black Democratic Detroit voters. Trust the AP on this call, State Senator Oberweis. You lost.
Cong. Underwood’s nursing background, work on Obamacare, and her training under the Obama administration in how to respond to public health emergencies and disasters, surely helped her with many voters. With the public health COVID-19 emergency/disaster we are now facing, which has currently killed more than 255,00 Americans, Underwood will be a voice of scientific reason and sanity in Congress and can greatly aid the Biden administration. If Underwood can keep her seat in this swingy GOP-leaning IL 14th , she will continue to be an up and coming star. Again, congratulations, Congressmember Underwood!