By Beth Blacksin
The Illinois Resistance added to the 2018 blue wave by flipping two House seats. IL 6 and IL 14 were won by first-time Democratic candidates with 53% and 52% of the vote respectively.
IL 6, covering parts of the west and northern suburbs of Chicago, is overwhelmingly white, urban and educated. Though it has since been redistricted, IL 6 was represented by conservative darling Henry Hyde for 25 years. Hyde was, among other things, the author of the infamous Hyde Amendment, prohibiting use of federal funds for abortions. It now includes parts of Cook, DuPage, Lake, Kane and McHenry counties.
The 2018 midterm election pitted first-time candidate Democrat Sean Casten, against Hyde’s successor, six-term incumbent Republican Peter Roskam, who won re-election by nearly 20 percentage points in 2016. Casten is a scientist and clean energy entrepreneur; passionate about the issue of climate change, while Roskam is a climate-change denier. Casten made health care a significant issue, opposing Roskam’s votes against the Affordable Care Act.
IL 14 is an exurb and rural, made up of parts of seven counties in the far western suburbs. It was represented by Republican Dennis Hastert from 1987 to 2007. Hastert was Speaker of the House from 1999 to 2007, the longest serving Republican Speaker in U.S. history. Although a Democrat won in IL 14 in 2008 after Hastert was indicted and left office, Republican Randy Hultgren regained the seat in 2011, and has held it since. President Trump praised Hultgren at a southern Illinois rally a few weeks ago.
First-time candidate Lauren Underwood took on Hultgren in the midterms. Underwood is an African American registered nurse, who served in the Obama administration as a senior adviser working on implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). She decided to run against Hultgren after he voted against the ACA. Underwood is the first woman and the first African American to represent IL 14, a district that is 85% white, 12.2% Hispanic and only 2.9% African American.
These victories were achieved using several smart campaigning strategies:
1) Run as an authentic candidate
Each candidate won running as their authentic themselves, as both knowledgeable and passionate experts on the issues of their own work lives. Casten was effective in using his scientific background to underscore his passion for clean energy and argue against climate-change denial. Underwood is not only is a nurse and a health policy expert, but also has a preexisting heart condition. She was able to capture the imagination and commitment of voters using her own personal story. Although she did not run on a single-payer platform, her platform to expand the ACA was effective in garnering support.
2) Build strong coalitions and rely on grassroots organizing to expand the base
Both candidates built robust coalitions led by women that included strong labor participation (AFSCME, ANA, SEIU, Illinois Educational Association, Illinois Federation of Teachers, unions representing skilled trades, and others), Planned Parenthood, the Illinois Muslim Civic Coalition and many more, including religious, environmental and LGBT organizations. These organizations worked together to build strong campaigns, bring new people into the process and offer organizing skills building, including canvassing, texting/phone banking, use of social media and messaging. Swing Left, Indivisible, Moveon and other grassroots groups also provided people and other resources for these campaigns, including training about how to canvass, transportation out to the suburbs, social media networking and many postcard signing events.
One experienced organizer in IL 6 said that every canvass was good, and one was excellent when all of the people she spoke to said something like ‘I support Casten but I don’t know about my neighbors.’ Finally, she told the last person that everyone on the block supported Casten! A first-time canvasser in IL 14 said that traveled an hour and a half from her home, because she felt as if our democracy is fundamentally at stake in this election. This was her contribution, even though she ‘cannot stand’ canvassing, and already had been texting, signing post cards and attending fundraisers. As Underwood said, “we showed up, showed up, showed up, showed up.” (Interview, MSNBC, November 7, 2018).
3) Advocate justice and equity
To paraphrase Stacey Davis Gates, the policy director of the Chicago Teacher’s Union, the issues of access to health care, having fully resourced schools in every neighborhood and stopping gun violence and police misconduct are not “left issues,” but issues of justice. These campaigns demonstrated that when we use our skills to talk to people, and get them reengaged in imagining equity, we can win on these issues of justice (interview, The Ben Joravsky Show, November 1, 2018).