The Illinois primaries are in the books, setting the stage for an important batch of congressional elections in November.
Assuming Democrat Conor Lamb is certified as the winner of the special election in Pennsylvania’s 18th District, Democrats still need a net gain of 23 seats to win the House majority. That’s a wide enough gap that Democrats, instead of cherry-picking victories around the country, will look to score big in a handful of states. Illinois might be one of them.
At this point, it feels like Democrats expect to gain at least two seats, based on their confidence in a suburban surge in the 6th District and the strength of their nominee in the 12th District. A great night for Democrats would include victories in the 13th and 14th districts as well.
All four GOP-held seats could become even more vulnerable if the national political environment further sours for Republicans or if GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner’s re-election chances tank at the top of the ballot.
Watch: Blue Dog vs. Progressive: What to Watch in the Illinois Primaries
Governor. Billionaire businessman JB Pritzker defeated businessman Chris Kennedy and state Sen. Daniel Biss in the Democratic primary. The Democratic nomination is valuable considering Hillary Clinton won Illinois 56-39 percent over Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential race.
Rauner was elected in 2014, finishing 4 points ahead of embattled Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn. But the incumbent struggled in Tuesday’s GOP primary against state Rep. Jeanne Ives, who fired up his conservative critics. Rauner took a hit for raising income taxes and expanding funding for abortions.
It’s clear that Rauner has problems within the Republican base, a dynamic that no statewide GOP candidate can afford. When Republican Sen. Mark Kirk ran for re-election in 2016, he got sideways with grass-roots Republicans by opposing Trump and lost to Democratic Rep. Tammy Duckworth, 55 percent to 40 percent. Pritzker, who has ties to infamous Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich, certainly isn’t a perfect candidate. But he’s still a Democrat in a Democratic state in a Democratic year. The biggest winner in the race might be local television stations, as two mega-rich nominees battle in what could be the most expensive gubernatorial race in history.
We’re changing our rating from Tilts Democratic to Leans Democratic.
3rd District. Democratic Rep. Daniel Lipinski narrowly survived a primary challenge from marketing consultant Marie Newman, 51-49 percent. The race in this Chicago-area district drew national attention as activists sought to banish Lipinski from their party for opposing abortion rights and voting against the 2010 health care law. Newman had support from EMILY’s List, Planned Parenthood Action Fund, NARAL Pro-Choice America, the Human Rights Campaign and Daily Kos Elections, as well as New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Illinois Reps. Luis Gutiérrez and Jan Schakowsky. Clinton won the district with 55 percent, so there is virtually no chance of a Republican takeover in this political environment, putting increased importance on the Democratic primary. Rating: Solid Democratic.
4th District. Cook County Commissioner Jesús “Chuy” Garcia defeated nonprofit executive Sol Flores in the Democratic primary in a deep-blue district that includes part of northwest Chicago and the lower West Side. (Gutiérrez, the incumbent, is not seeking re-election.) While EMILY’s List endorsed Flores, Garcia had some built-in name recognition in the expensive Chicago media market after an unsuccessful run for mayor in 2015. Since Democrats all but own the district — Clinton cleaned up here in 2016 with 82 percent — Garcia now joins the club of likely new members of the next Congress, which so far includes Texas Republican Van Taylor and Texas Democrats Sylvia Garcia and Veronica Escobar. Rating: Solid Democratic.
6th District. Clean energy advocate Sean Casten won the Democratic nomination in a seven-way primary, beating out Barrington Hills planning board member Kelly Mazeski, former congressional aide Carole Cheney and 2016 nominee Amanda Howland. Now he will face GOP Rep. Peter Roskam in a suburban Chicago district full of voters who could punish the congressman in their upheaval against Trump. Roskam has survived before — he bucked the 2006 Democratic wave to win a competitive open seat over Duckworth — but this will be a new challenge for the congressman under the current electoral conditions. In 2016, Clinton carried the seat by 7 points. Rating: Moves from Leans Republican to Tilts Republican.
8th District. It’s been quite a journey for Democrat Raja Krishnamoorthi. After losing the 2012 primary to Duckworth in a newly-drawn district, he won the competitive 2016 primary to replace her when she ran for the Senate. On Tuesday the incumbent ran unopposed. Rating: Solid Democratic.
10th District. This suburban Chicago district bounced back and forth between Democratic Rep. Brad Schneider and former GOP Rep. Bob Dold for years. In a different election climate, this seat could become a GOP takeover opportunity once again, but not with President Trump in the White House. Republican Douglas Bennett won the GOP nomination but will lose in November. Rating: Solid Democratic.
12th District. St. Clair County State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly won the Democratic nomination and will face GOP Rep. Mike Bost in the general election. Kelly is regarded as a top-tier challenger, but in a downstate district that Trump carried by 15 points. In retrospect, Bost’s 2014 race was an early indicator of Trump’s success. In 2018, this is the type of race Democrats probably need to win for a majority — and the type they could win in a Democratic wave. Rating: Leans Republican.
13th District. Betsy Dirksen Londrigan, a former fundraiser for Sen. Dick Durbin, won the Democratic nomination over a field that included Erik Jones, a former congressional staffer and Illinois assistant attorney general. Perennial candidate David Gill has been a thorn in Democrats’ side in previous cycles but was destined to finish a distant third or fourth. Londrigan had support from Durbin and EMILY’s List and will face GOP Rep. Rodney Davis in the general election. While Trump won the central Illinois district with nearly 50 percent, this race could certainly get more competitive. Rating: Likely Republican.
14th District. Former Health and Human Services official Lauren Underwood won the Democratic nomination in a seven-candidate field, as Victor Swanson, comedian Andy Richter’s brother, slid to fourth. Underwood had $165,000 in her campaign account on Feb. 28 and will face GOP Rep. Randy Hultgren and his $485,000 in cash.This exurban Chicago district, which Trump carried by 4 points in 2016, was drawn by Democrats as a Republican vote sink during the last round of redistricting. But the suburban surge against Trump could pull it back into play. Rating: Solid Republican.
15th District. When Rep. John Shimkus defeated state Sen. Kyle McCarter, 60-40 percent, in the 2016 Republican primary, McCarter made noise about running again. But on Tuesday, Shimkus took the nomination unopposed. Trump took the district, which includes Danville, Wabash River Valley and the outer St. Louis suburbs, with 71 percent, so it’s not particularly vulnerable to a Democratic takeover in November. But don’t be surprised if this is an open seat in 2020. Rating: Solid Republican.
17th District. Republican Bill Falwell won his party’s nomination without opposition after wealthy businessman Mark Kleine dropped out before the primary. But Falwell hadn't filed with the Federal Election Commission through the pre-primary period, meaning he hadn’t raised or spent more than $5,000 as of Feb. 28. Bustos had nearly $2.6 million in the bank and will be able to boast about winning re-election over another under-funded opponent in a northwest Illinois district that Trump won with 47 percent in preparation for the 2020 presidential race or a spot on a 2020 ticket as a running mate. Rating: Solid Democratic.
For more race ratings, visit Roll Call's 2018 Election Guide.