President Donald Trump’s turbulent first year in office begs an important question for Republican congressmen defending their seats in November: Is anyone safe?
The Sauk Valley is represented in Congress by U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, who votes with Trump more thn 90 percent of the time, and by U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, a Democrat who won re-election in 2016 in a district that favored Trump.
Republicans nationwide are facing Democratic opponents posing threats to their seats in an election that may be primed for a “blue wave.”
It’s typical for the sitting president’s party to lose seats in Congress during midterms, but talks of the wave also stem from Democrat Conor Lamb’s victory last month in a Pennsylvania House district that Trump won by almost 20 points in 2016. Democrats are now eyeing their chance to retake Congress.
Trump also won Bustos’ 17th Congressional District by about 20 percentage points. But she is one of only 12 Democrats nationwide – soon to include Lamb – who was able to win a Trump district.
“Our region supported him,” Bustos, D-East Moline, said of Trump during a visit this week with the Sauk Valley Media Editorial Board at this newspaper’s Sterling office. “The moral of the story is broken promises. He’s got a fight on his hands now.”
Bustos is one of the Midwest leaders of that fight. Last year, she was appointed chairwoman of “heartland engagement” for the Democrats’ campaign arm.
“We’re working with candidates in swing districts all over,” Bustos said. “It’s the best group of candidates Democrats have had in a long time.”
Bustos is working with Democratic candidates in Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio and Wisconsin.
One of those candidates is Lauren Underwood, a Democrat challenging Republican Rep. Randy Hultgren in the 14th Congressional District to the east of the Sauk Valley.
“We’re seeing enthusiasm for change and having a voice in congress that reflects our values,” Underwood said. She is a 30-year-old Naperville nurse who President Barack Obama appointed to serve as a senior advisor at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Underwood is one of several Democratic congressional candidates who have not run for political office before.
“They’re good people who would be reasonable legislators,” Bustos said. “All have a shot of winning. I’m not saying it’s going to be easy, but we have an opportunity to pick up these seats [in the Midwest] and many more.”
Democrats need to gain 23 seats in the November elections to win back the majority in the U.S. House of Representatives.
One of those who hopes to gain a Republican seat is Sara Dady, a Democrat challenging Kinzinger in the 16th Congressional District. Dady said Illinois is in store for a “blue tsunami.”
“Congress is supposed to be a check on destructive executive power,” Dady said. “We do not have an advocate who has our back in Washington D.C. in this district.”
Kinzinger’s congressional track record – like many Illinois Republicans – shows his positions align with President Trump’s most of the time.
An exploration of heralded election-predictor Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight blog shows how voting records of northern Illinois congressmen align with the president. In the realm of policy, they mime Trump without the superlative language.
Kinzinger votes with Trump 98.5 percent of the time. Hultgren votes with Trump 95.7 percent of the time.
Trump’s approval ratings have hovered in the 30s for much of his presidency, and only 3 in 10 Americans said the U.S. was heading in the right direction, according to a poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. In the same survey, 67 percent of Americans said the country was more divided because of Trump.
A Morning Consult survey published Wednesday showed 60 percent of Illinois residents disapproved of the president – up 20 points since he took office in January 2017.
About a third of Republicans across American disapprove of Trump’s job performance – a detail that alludes to danger for congressional Republicans vying to maintain control of the U.S. House.
Hultgren said he’s at once unapologetic about his congressional record and aware of the challenge he faces in the November race against Underwood.
“I’m really proud of the work that we’ve done,” said Hultgren, one of two congressmen who represent portions of McHenry County who voted for the American Health Care Act to replace the Affordable Care Act. Roskam was the other one. “This will be a very tough election, but I’ve gone through tough elections before, and we’ll be ready.”
Kinzinger’s campaign did not respond to requests to comment for this story.
Bustos said the key for Democrats is to emphasize governing by “sitting down with the other party and having a conversation.”
“That’s my style of politcs,” said Bustos, who is seeking her fourth term in November. She is being challenged by Republican Bill Fawell in a district that has traditionally sent Democrats to Washington.
“We’re working right now on what is our promise to the American public,” she said. “It will be around kitchen-table issues”
Ed Komenda, a reporter with the Northwest Herald in Crystal Lake, may be reached at email@example.com. Jeff Rogers, editor of Sauk Valley Media, may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.