Illinois’ 6th Congressional District was down to the wire Tuesday, with Democratic U.S. Rep. Sean Casten trying to hold off Republican challenger Keith Pekau, the mayor of Orland Park, to win a third term in a contest that has drawn lots of high-profile national attention and money as it has tightened up in recent weeks.
Campaign appearances in recent days by President Joe Biden for Casten and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy for Pekau showed that the race has become one of the key midterm fronts in the battle for control of the House for the next two years.
With the polls now closed in Illinois, the 6th District is perhaps the most contentious of several Chicago-area contests for Congress on the ballot Tuesday, from a changing of the guard in a historic African American district to the first election in a new congressional seat created to acknowledge Illinois’ burgeoning Latino population.
Casten and Pekau have been casting the campaign in historic terms for months, since long before it started seeing big contributions from political action committees hoping to influence the outcome with massive late TV ad buys. The Republican-controlled Congressional Leadership Fund super PAC made a late push for Pekau, investing $1.8 million in Chicago TV ads targeting Casten, according to Politico. The Democratic-controlled House Majority PAC, meanwhile, invested $650,000 in ads backing Casten, according to the same Politico report.
“What’s at stake is our democracy,” Casten told the crowd at an event he set up Friday right down the hall from where McCarthy was campaigning for Pekau in an Oak Brook hotel. Abortion rights, climate change and gun regulation are on the line, Casten said.
Pekau, meanwhile, has been hammering his opponent over Democratic economic policies that he says have led to the inflation crisis that’s gripping the country.
Casten first won the seat in 2018, defeating six-term Republican U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam. Before Roskam, much of the area was represented for more than 30 years by Republican Henry Hyde.
A Casten win in this election could set him up for the long term in the U.S. House, while a Pekau victory could indicate a swing back to Republican ascendance in the district. Following the 2020 census, Congressional and state legislative districts were redrawn and, in Illinois, Democrats held the power to redesign those maps and did so with an eye toward protecting as many seats as possible — including the 6th District.
While Biden won in the area that now covers the 6th District by 54.5% to 43.6% over former President Donald Trump in 2020, according to a Daily Kos analysis, the district includes neighborhoods on Chicago’s Southwest Side with large numbers of Republican voters such as Garfield Ridge, Beverly and Mount Greenwood.
The new 6th District also sweeps through nearby towns including Orland Park and Alsip, and up through the west suburbs, taking in all or parts of Burr Ridge, Darien, Elmhurst, Hickory Hills, Oakbrook Terrace, Oak Forest, Oak Lawn, Orland Hills, Western Springs, Willowbrook and Worth, and extending north to Villa Park and west to Downers Grove.
The 6th District fight is the likely to yield the closest general election result among the eight U.S. House districts that include parts of Chicago, but there’s still plenty of drama in other local races.
In the new 3rd District that extends from progressive Northwest Side Chicago neighborhoods to historically conservative towns in the far reaches of DuPage County, about 47.4% of the nearly 754,000 residents are Hispanic, according to the Illinois Democratic Party.
Democratic state Rep. Delia Ramirez is trying to close the deal on her congressional race and become the first person to represent the new Latino-leaning district. First-time candidate Justin Burau of suburban Winfield is the long-shot Republican trying to stop her.
Ramirez, a progressive with ties to liberal U.S. Rep. Jesús “Chuy” García, said she’s trying to connect with more voters in moderate and conservative suburban towns after she beat moderate Northwest Side Ald. Gilbert Villegas in the Democratic primary.
Though the district includes many suburbs that historically have been Republican-leaning, most of the votes in the district are still expected to be in more Democratic-leaning Chicago neighborhoods and nearby suburbs.
The daughter of Guatemalan immigrants and wife of a man who arrived from Guatemala as an undocumented immigrant and has been living in Chicago under the auspices of the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program, Ramirez promises to have immigration reform at the top of her agenda in Washington, D.C.
Biden won the precincts of the current 3rd District in 2020 with 69.7% of the vote, to 28.3% for Trump, according to Daily Kos.
Burau said his underdog campaign gives him the freedom to depart from GOP orthodoxy in his campaign.
The South Side 1st District will also see a new representative, with U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush retiring after 30 years in the seat.
Democrat Jonathan Jackson, son of civil rights activist the Rev. Jesse Jackson, is hoping to become the ninth straight Black representative of the heavily Democratic district, dating back to Oscar De Priest’s win in 1928.
De Priest was the first Black person elected to Congress in the 20th century and the first ever in the North, his victory marking a milestone in Black urban political power in Chicago and nationally.
The redrawn district, which threads from the South Loop through the South Side and deep into the south suburbs to the edge of Kankakee County, gives the 1st District the largest number of African American residents of the state’s 17 congressional seats.
Jacksonwas the overwhelming favorite in his first run for public office, in a district that’s 49.7% Black and where, according to Daily Kos, Biden defeated Trump 70.5% to 28.1%.
Jackson argues he won’t “be a regular freshman congressperson,” due to the relationships he’s developed with sitting House members while working around the country on voter drives for his father’s Rainbow/PUSH Coalition.
He said he wants to lay the groundwork to bring more high-tech manufacturing to the district as companies seek U.S. locations to build things like batteries and other components of electric cars.
On the Republican side is Eric Carlson, who has an uphill battle and has had to address that he spent nearly six years in prison after being convicted 27 years ago of sexually assaulting a woman following a South Side Irish Parade.
Three other local members of the U.S. House are poised to return.
Veteran U.S. Rep. Danny Davis is unopposed in the 7th District, which stretches from the west suburbs of Westchester, Bellwood and Oak Park through the city’s West Side and east to Lake Michigan, encompassing Streeterville and downtown, before darting south to include parts of the South Loop, Bridgeport and Englewood
Davis got endorsed in the primary by Biden and other high-profile Democrats to fend off Collins, who said it was “time for a change.”
García is seeking a third term in a newly configured 4th Congressional District now centered around his Southwest Side base, facing off against Republican James Falakos and Ed Hershey of the Working Class Party.
While García was the overwhelming favorite in Tuesday’s election, he may have a bigger political prize in mind.
He took two steps last week toward announcing a run for Chicago mayor, amending his campaign committee to support a City Hall run and filing an economic disclosure statement.
Another South Side and south suburban lawmaker, U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly of the 2nd District, aimed to fend off a Republican challenge by Thomas Lynch.
And in the 5th District, redrawn to stretch from downtown Chicago northwest to Barrington, Rep. Michael Quigley faces Republican challenger and commercial real estate agent Tom Hanson in a rematch of 2020 and 2018, when Quigley won with more than 70% of the vote. Independent Jerico Matias Cruz is also on the 5th District ballot.