September 26, 2018



As goes America on Nov. 6, so goes the 6th Illinois Congressional District. If 12-year incumbent Peter Roskam (R) gets defeated by Democrat Sean Casten, who is running a vigorous anti-Trump campaign and is tying Roskam to the president, then Republicans will lose their 23-seat U.S. House majority, and Nancy Pelosi will be the next speaker.

The problem for congressional Republicans is that they have no coherent message. Polls show congressional "approval" is less than 20 percent, and Trump's is in the low 40s. Those are nationwide numbers, and Illinois is unquestionably an anti-Trump state. So how does a conservative Republican like Roskam, from a historically conservative and Republican district centered on Republican DuPage County, win?

That is the Republicans' 2018 conundrum. Roskam raised $4,389,553 during 2017-18, dwarfing Casten's $2,015,331, but the problem is crafting a message. Casten is up on major market television with ads blasting Roskam for allegedly "supporting Trump on 94%" of the House roll-call votes, voting for a tax cut which "gives billions to the wealthy," opposing abortion rights, and for "denying climate change." Casten's theme is that he "will stand up to Trump." Given the fact that Clinton narrowly beat Trump in the district by a 51-49 margin, there is a built-in anti-Trump base, which has probably expanded since 2016.

How does a Republican incumbent like Roskam respond in a hostile anti-Trump environment? He can't tout his experience, because 2018 is a year in which incumbency is a serious impediment. He can't tout his voting record, or the Republicans' record in the House over the past 2 years because it will likely offend more voters that it pleases. He can't say a word about Trump, since any criticism would estrange the district's 45 percent-plus Trump voter base. He can't go negative on Casten, since the Democrat has never held nor run for office. Attacking him would only elevate his visibility and credibility and signal that Roskam is in a panic mode. Roskam's only pathway to victory is to rely on the goodwill that he has accumulated with constituents over a decade, and to target and turn out traditionally Republican and socially conservative voters, such as those who are pro-gun and anti-abortion. He also needs the sputtering DuPage County Republican Machine to churn out their vote.

The obvious Republican rebuttal is that voters should ignore Trump's peccadilloes, and focus on the macro-landscape. The stock market is booming, and the Dow Jones Industrial is up 25 percent since Trump's election. That's put a lot of wealth into people's pockets and pension funds. Unemployment is 3.9 percent, the lowest since 2005. Gross domestic product growth is 4.1 percent per annum, which means the economy is humming, and employers are finding it hard to find workers. And the housing market is near-2006 levels with property values rising at 6.1 percent annually. But Trump gets no credit. Democrats ignore that achievement, and Republicans understand that "good times are here" will not resonate with the voters. If the economy were stumbling, Democrats would be trumpeting that fact. But, astutely, Democrats are focused on Trump's actions, not his accomplishments.

The "5-5 Rule" and the "5% Midterm Rule" are applicable in the 6th District, as well as in other Republican-held districts. The 5-5 Rule posits that any congressman whose vote percentage declines by 5 percent in each of two successive elections is in grave danger of ouster, due either to the incumbent's personal problems, voting record or complacency, or to the changing district demographics. The Midterm Rule posits that an incumbent House member of the president's party, at a midterm election, will suffer a 5-percent vote diminution if the president is unpopular. Voter turnout is maximized in presidential years, and falls off 10-20 percent in the mid-terms. Barack Obama won a huge victory in 2008, but energized Republicans won the House and Senate in 2010 because the Obama Nation didn't turn out. The Obama Nation was back in 2012, but Republicans rebounded in the 2014 mid-terms. A similar cycle is predictable for 2018, with Democrats ascendant.

According to the national newsletters and blog sites that monitor congressional campaigns, an astounding 52 Republican-held districts are in play on Nov. 6, four of which are in Illinois.
6TH DISTRICT: Roskam's district is a classic example of "packing" and "cracking," which means Mike Madigan's Democrats in 2011 stuffed the district with every conceivable Republican voter pocket while cracking away every conceivable Democratic voter pocket, stuffing them into other districts to maximize Democratic voter strength. Liberal-trending Naperville and Downers Grove in south DuPage County went into the Aurora-Joliet south suburban 11th District, won by Bill Foster (D). Lombard and Hinsdale in southeast DuPage County were attached to Mike Quigley's Chicago 5th Congressional District, which runs to the Lakefront and Lincoln Park.

The Hispanic areas in northeast DuPage County - Addison, Bensenville, Wood Dale - were attached to the new 8th District, which ran west to Elgin and included Schaumburg, Streamwood and Bartlett in western Cook County, won by Tammy Duckworth (D) in 2012. The Democrats also took Republican-leaning areas from Bob Dold's (R) North Shore 10th Congressional District - Arlington Heights, Palatine, Rolling Meadows, and Barrington - from western Cook County and Lake Zurich, and Cary from Lake County, and put them in the 6th District. That enabled Brad Schneider (D) to beat Dold in 2012, and Roskam, with the most Republican areas of DuPage County, won with 59 percent.

Democrats conceded the district to Roskam, whose margins after a 51 percent 2006 win over Duckworth, were 58 percent in 2008, 64 percent in 2010, 59 percent in 2012, 67 percent in 2014, and 59 percent in 2016. By every criterion, Roskam has a "safe" seat. He can easily absorb a five percent loss, but not much more.

Casten, a former energy company executive from Downers Grove, beat three female opponents in the 2018 Democratic primary largely because they split the liberal/gender vote. He is getting serious funding from Washington party sources and special interests, including $400,000 from Planned Parenthood for TV ads. In the primary, Casten loaned his campaign $630,000. Roskam is a Ways & Means committee member, is close to party leadership, and rarely deviates from the party line.

Prediction: An April Democratic poll put Roskam in the lead with 45-44 percent; a recent Democratic poll put Casten ahead 47-44 percent. That is not much movement, if the poll is to be believed. Casten is relying on the media to deliver votes, and Roskam on precinct workers. Roskam will win 51-49.

14TH DISTRICT: Incumbent Randy Hultgren (R), like Roskam, inherited a district packed with Republicans. Hultgren, of Plano, beat Foster in 2010, and every southwest suburban Democratic pocket was put into Foster's new 2012 11th District. Hultgren's exurban district, with a lot of rural territory, wraps around Cook County, stretching from Kendall County in the south, then north through Kane and McHenry counties to the north part of Lake County, to Antioch and Lake Villa. This is solid Republican territory. Hultgren, a reliable Republican vote, beat Foster in 2010 with 51 percent, won in 2012 with 59 percent, 2014 with 65 percent, and 2016 with 60 percent.

His 2018 opponent is Lauren Underwood, a 31-year old nurse who beat six men in the primary. Underwood raised $1,127,586 during the 2018 cycle, and Hultgren $1,432,423. If voters truly want an outsider, they can't get more outside the box than Underwood. Hultgren is viewed as anti-union, so a lot of union money must flow into the district for Underwood to triumph. Prediction: Hultgren will win with 55 percent.

13TH DISTRICT: Incumbent Rodney Davis (R) won this open seat in 2012 with 47 percent, a margin of 1,002 votes, but was re-elected in 2014 with 59 percent and in 2016 with 60 percent. The district includes Springfield, Champaign, Decatur, Normal and the suburbs around East Saint Louis, all of which provide a sizeable Democratic base. Davis raised $2,368,640 during the 2017-18 cycle, and his opponent, Betsy Dirksen Londrigan (D), of Springfield, raised $1,341,611. Prediction: Davis, a former congressional staffer, is the epitome of bland and boring. Expect an upset by Londrigan.

12TH DISTRICT: Incumbent Mike Bost (R), a 20-year state representative, scored a major upset in 2014 over a one-term Democrat, getting 52 percent. He upped that to 54 percent in 2016. The district includes East Saint Louis, Carbondale, and stretches to the tip of the state. Unlike areas north of I-80, southern Illinois has become more conservative and more Republican over the past decade. Being pro-Trump is no liability here. Bost is from Murphysboro in far southern Jackson County. His 2018 foe Saint Clair County state's attorney Brendan Kelly, who can expect a substantial vote out of East Saint Louis. Bost raised $1,903,753 during the 2017-18 cycle, and Kelly $1,778,360. Prediction: A nationwide anti-Trump wave would just be a minor surge in a district like Bost's. Expect a real tight Bost victory.

The Republicans' consensus is that losing the House, and having Pelosi as speaker, would be politically advantageous. They figure the new Democratic majority would preoccupy itself with impeaching Trump during 2019, thereby polarizing the country further, and setting the stage for a leftist 2020 Democratic presidential candidate. As always occurs in politics, victories - as well as defeats - are never permanent, only transitory.