In the battle for control of Congress, Illinois’ 14th district is a fascinating study after its composition was changed dramatically thanks to redistricting undertaken by the General Assembly.
The district, which includes Naperville, Aurora, Joliet and part of Kendall County, is currently represented by Rep. Lauren Underwood, who is no stranger to close battles.
She defeated Randy Hultgen in the 2018 election by 15,000 votes, and fended off a challenge from Jim Oberweis in 2020, winning by less than 6,000 votes.
Recently, her race against Republican challenger Scott Gryder has tightened, but she is still favored to win, according to FiveThirtyEight’s models, and she’ll get a boost this weekend as President Joe Biden is expected to visit the Chicago area.
“It means that I’m excited he’s coming,” she said. “If I get an invitation, I don’t really make a habit of turning those down.”
On the other side of the pitched battle, Gryder says that appearances from Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris indicate some desperation on the part of Democrats to hold onto seats where they should be favored.
“I don’t think it helps,” he said. “I think he’s wildly unpopular, and she had Kamala Harris here a few weeks ago, and I don’t think that helped.”
Gryder is the chair of the Kendall County Board, and says that voters are looking to express their displeasure over a variety of issues, including inflation and crime.
“Inflation, economy and the SAFE-T Act and crime – those are the top three things I keep hearing about,” he said.
Underwood says that Democrats should be winning the economic issue thanks to job growth.
“To get us to a place where our economy is recovering, we’ve had the fastest economic growth in decades, incredibly low levels of unemployment,” she said.
Similar to what’s occurring on the national stage, the candidates disagree on “When we have an opponent, an extreme Republican, like the gentleman running on the Republican side in the 14th District, who is calling for a federal ban on abortion, we have to make it clear to people,” Underwood said.
“I am pro-life with exceptions,” Gryder countered. “I do believe the life of the mother, rape or incest (should be excepted), otherwise I am pro-life.”
Each of them label the other as extreme, a label that carries serious connotations in a battleground district.
“I do think she’s very extreme. There’s not a federal program that she doesn’t like,” Gryder said.
Underwood said that she believes Gryder is too conservative for the district, and that sitting out should not be an option.
“If you choose to stay at home, if you choose to sit out this election, it’s a defacto vote for the far right, the Republican side in the 14th Congressional District,” she said.
The race will be closely watched on election night. FiveThirtyEight says that Underwood wins in 75-of-100 model runs based on current polling, and the Cook Political Report has rated the race as “leaning Democratic.”