May 20, 2020


State Representative Lindsey LaPointe (D-19) told me in a recent interview with certainty that President Donald Trump's inept response to the pandemic is responsible for "killing people." That's not very thoughtful or helpful. But then consider the source. Those who hate Trump, blame Trump. And it will be like this for a while.

America's ongoing putrid political environment, coupled with a now-ongoing putrid economy, will persist well into the 2020s. We have a metastatic political cancer in this country. We are consigned to living in the moment - which will be Nov. 3. And every moment until then (and probably after) will be filled with venom, hate, blame and recrimination.

The political narrative, until the dawn of the COVID-19 era, was that the country was implacably polarized between the pro-Trumpsters and the anti-Trumpsters, and that Nov. 3 would be a referendum on the president's pre-COVID-19 performance. For Dems like LaPointe, the message was GET RID OF TRUMP and Trump fatigue triumphs.

Then the narrative evolved into Trump's handling of the crisis and of the economic fallout. JUST BLAME TRUMP. Democrats anticipated that massive numbers of angry, hurting (as in jobless) voters would embrace Biden and the congressional Democrats simply because they're the non-Trump alternative.

But the narrative has changed yet again. "Saving lives" is now counter-balanced by "saving livelihoods."

Polarization has been re-calibrated: It's LOCKDOWN vs. RE-OPENING, government authoritarianism vs. individual rights, and that gives Trump and the Republicans a wedge issue ("This is the face of socialism"), a whole new identity and a tangible enemy, and perhaps path to victory.

1) Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats did themselves no favors by recently passing another stimulus bill of $3 trillion, including city and state bailouts (and pensions), which would up the national debt to $25 trillion. It is dead on arrival in the Republican-controlled (53-47) Senate, which wants business liability protections. 207 of the 234 Democrats voted for it, and five of those were elected in 2018 in districts which Trump won in 2016. 199 of the 200 Republicans voted against it. The upcoming battle will be visible and vicious: "Saving lives" and providing money for "essential services" versus "saving the economy" and businesses. Each party is appealing to their base. But the narrative has now shifted from whether the congressman/woman is pro-Trump/ anti-Trump to anti-bailout/pro-bailout and re-opening/lockdown.

According to a consensus of Washington political analysts there are now 82 House seats (36R, 46D) "in play" on Nov. 3, meaning rated Toss-up, Lean or Likely, including 3 in Illinois (2D, 1R), with three Republican seats certain to flip. The remaining 350 seats are safe for the incumbent or incumbent party. Republicans need to hold all their safe and vulnerable seats (197) and win 27 of 46 vulnerable Democratic seats. And two-thirds of those flips would have to come from CA, PA, MI, IL, TX, NY, NJ, FL and IA, which had 40 seats flip from R to D in 2018, plus single-seat pick-ups in KN, SC, GA, OK, WA and VA.

The Republican minority will likely creep up to the 208-212 range, higher than thought in pre-COVID-19 days, but it would take a serious Trump surge in "battleground" congressional districts to win back the House and depose Pelosi.

(2) If lockdowns persist through October, Republicans anticipate that the BLAME GAME will shift from who's responsible for COVID-19 - either Trump, who is accused of not acting quickly or competently, or the Chinese Communist Party, which "created" the virus - to who's responsible for NOT re-opening quickly or competently, like blue-state Democratic governors in NY, IL, NJ, MI, PA, CA, WA, WI, VA (and, to be accurate, Republican governors in OH, MD and MA). They contrast starkly with red-state Republican governors in GA, FL, SC, IA, IN, TX, MS, TN, AZ and SD.

Some governors (like Illinois' J.B. Pritzker) won't allow a total reopening, such as sports events, until a vaccine has been perfected and administered. That could be 2021 or beyond. The point is that Americans, especially in less-populated suburban and rural areas, no longer tolerate shelter-in-place restrictions, and urbanites are growing restive as well. Anger is a prelude to blame. A "moment" cannot last 7 months. On Nov. 3, incumbents of one party or the other will TAKE THE BLAME for the WHOLE STINKING MESS.

(3) Exit Mike Bloomberg. After spending $1,047,623,103 of his fortune on his failed presidential bid, the ex-New York mayor and billionaire promised to spend $500 million to elect Democrats in the 2020 election. Forget about it. With 30 million unemployed and food pantries over-run, it would be unseemly, if not obscene, to spend that amount on political ads.

The congressional playing field has been monetarily leveled, which enhances Republican prospects in Illinois.

14TH CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT: Republicans can't afford to lose this seat again. It is a MUST take back for them. So Republicans nominated an old (age 73) rich white guy, Jim Oberweis, who has plenty of experience at losing, like 5 out of 5 bids for statewide or congressional office. But Oberweis, scion of the Oberweis Dairy ice cream shop chain and a wealthy asset management entrepreneur, has formidable assets: He can self-fund to $1 million or more. He is an 8-year state senator from Kendall County. And he is well known, fanatically conservative, but not necessarily well liked. But neither is he slavishly pro-Trump. Trumpsters In the March 17 primary ran TV ads ripping Oberweis for being anti-Trump. But he beat state senator Sue Rezin 13,333-11,879.

The Democratic incumbent, elected in 2018, is Lauren Underwood, age 33, an African-American nurse from Crystal Lake who briefly had a job in the Obama administration. She upset 8-year Republican Randy Hultgren 156,035-141,164, a 52.5-47.5 percent win in a district Trump won 48.7-44.8 percent in 2016. The district is a historically Republican outlying suburban/ rural crescent around Cook County, stretching from the Wisconsin border to south of Joliet. Yet Underwood won all 7 counties: McHenry (41,016-40,481), Kane (41,777-38,797), Lake (21,649-19,145), Will (23,267-17,456), Kendall (16,451-15,615), DeKalb (7,699-7,215) and DuPage (4,176-2,455). Will and DuPage were the game-changers, giving her a bulge of 7,532 votes, half of her 14,871 winning margin.

Underwood has been energetic, holding until recently town hall gatherings throughout the district. She raised $3,544,888 during 2019-20, and has $2,260,854 on-hand. This money flows in not because of Underwood's job performance, but because she is part of the "Pelosi Majority." According to VoteView, a Web site which analyzes roll-call votes, Underwood is the "20th most liberal' House Democrat, voting WITH Trump on 4.7 percent of the bills, which means WITH Pelosi 95.3 percent of the time.

Oberweis has an opening, but he must promptly define her as an out-of-touch leftist before she uses her voluminous cash stash to define him as a pro-Trump "extremist." Underwood's 2018 wedge issue was Hultgren's vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act. She says every American has a human right to government-paid healthcare and that a single-pay plan, meaning Medicare-for-all, is a "great goal." On immigration, Underwood accused the U.S. Border Patrol of inflicting "intentional deaths" among border-crossing arrestees in detention awaiting deportation.

OUTLOOK: Underwood is an implausible fit for the district, but the question is whether Trump is fit to be president for 4 more years. The Trump/Oberweis vote will be conjoined, as will the anti-Trump (Biden)/Underwood vote. Democratic turnout on March 17 was 77,707, compared to the Republicans' 52,093. Slight edge to Oberweis. He will win by less than 1,000 votes.

6TH CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT: Democratic incumbent Sean Casten upset 12-year Republican Peter Roskam 169,001-146,445, a 53.6 percent win, in 2018. His 2020 prospects for re-election look bright, for three reasons: First, Casten has raised $3,134,011 during 2019-20, and has $2,501,337 on-hand. Remember that enduring "Pelosi Majority?" Second, Clinton beat Trump in the district in 2016, but not by much. And the district, consisting of central and western DuPage County, plus parts of Cook County including Arlington Heights, is undergoing serious demographic changes, with an influx of Hispanics, Asian Indians and Pakistanis. And third, Republican nominee Jeanne Ives is a flawed candidate.

Briefly a state representative, Ives ran against Governor Bruce Rauner in the 2018 Republican primary, losing 314,382-294,338, a margin of 20,044 votes. Ives is charismatic but politically not astute. Her theme was that Rauner as governor had been no conservative enough and she attacked Rauner relentlessly for his opposition to a ban on all abortions, an issue which no longer resonates. Ives raised $1,076,521 during 2019-20, and got 29,144 votes in the primary (while Casten got 82,909 in his primary). Ives' cash-on-hand is $366,221.

Outlook: Casten postures himself as a moderate Democrat, but he's a Pelosi puppet in Washington. Trump will get more votes than Ives, but both will lose the district.

13TH CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT: Incumbent Rodney Davis (R) was never secure in his mostly rural southwest Downstate district, and that's because contains Springfield, Decatur, Champaign and Bloomington, which have pockets of liberal students, minorities and government workers. Davis beat Betsy Dirksen Londrigan (D) 136,516-134,458 in 2018 after winning easily (187,583-126,811) against a different Democrat. Both 2020 candidates have stockpiled cash: Davis has $1,530,972 on-hand and Londrigan $1,600,582. This is one race where Illinois' lockdown anger will benefit Republicans. Edge to Davis.