These Are the 10 Races to Watch in Illinois Politics This Year

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On the Democratic side, the battle to unseat incumbent Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner has already seen harsh words and heavy spending. The candidates include (from left to right): state Sen. Daniel Biss, physician Robert Marshall, billionaire Hyatt heir J.B. Pritzker, downstate school superintendent Bob Daiber, Chicago community organizer Tio Hardiman and businessman Chris Kennedy. Both Kennedy (son of the late Robert F. Kennedy) and Pritzker have donated significantly to their own causes, though Kennedy has contributed $500,000 to Pritzker's $42 million as of January 2018. Pritzker, Kennedy and Biss have all taken to the television airwaves to make their case to voters - largely looking to capture the progressive vote to survive the primary. The campaign rhetoric has grown heated at times, from Biss mocking the wealthy, self-funding candidates, to Kennedy accusing Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel of "strategic gentrification," and more.
But before Rauner can think about the general election, he's got to make it through the primary. After months of speculation, state Rep. Jeanne Ives launched her campaign to take down the first-term governor from the right. The Wheaton lawmaker is among conservatives angered by Rauner's signing of a measure to allow Illinois to cover abortions for state employees and Medicaid recipients, as well as to keep abortion legal in the state should the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade be overturned. Other moves that have angered right-wing voters include Rauner's signing of a bill to effectively turn Illinois into a so-called "sanctuary state" for undocumented immigrants, as well as a landmark overhaul of the state's school funding formula. While the largely self-funded billionaire incumbent has an advantage when it comes to campaign cash, Ives has earned the support of various conservative groups and even won a straw poll of the Chicago Republican Party by an overwhelming 17-3 vote.
While it remains to be seen which candidates will capture their respective party's nomination, the race for Illinois governor is already hot and will only get hotter leading up to Election Day. If Republican voters let Rauner carry the GOP mantle, will Illinoisans let him have a second term? The conservative magazine National Review called him "The Worst Republican Governor in America" and his approval ranking has been among the lowest of governors across the country - thanks in large part to the more than two-year budget impasse he presided over while gridlocked with Democrats in the legislature. While he certainly has the cash (giving himself more than $71 million since Oct. 2016), Rauner isn't the only billionaire in the race that's expected to break records. Pritzker, a powerful Democratic fundraiser who has seemingly garnered the most significant portion of the party's backing, has also been self-funding, and as the fifth richest person in Illinois, according to Forbes, he's got the cash flow to keep the contributions going. The race passed the $100 million mark in October 2017, close to the record $112 million spent over the entirety of the last gubernatorial campaign in 2014, more than a year out from Election Day. The battle of the billionaires is also on pace to set a record for the most expensive gubernatorial campaign in U.S. history, a title that currently belongs to California's 2010 race that came with a $280 million price tag.
AP/Andrew Harnik, File
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s September announcement that she would not seek a fifth term in office sent shockwaves through the state’s political circles, with several names floated as potential candidates for the high-profile job. Ten candidates have filed to run for the position: (top row, left to right) DuPage County Board member and former Burr Ridge Mayor Gary Grasso (R), former Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA) Chief Sharon Fairley (D), ex-gubernatorial candidate and state Rep. Scott Drury (D), attorney and one-time downstate congressional candidate Erika Harold (R), former assistant U.S. attorney and MSNBC political commentator Renato Mariotti, (bottom row, left to right) 33rd Ward Democratic committeeman and former Cook County public defender Aaron Goldstein (D), Highland Park Mayor and former 10th District congressional candidate Nancy Rotering (D), Chicago Park District President and former chairman of the Illinois State Board of Education.Jesse Ruiz (D), state Sen. Kwame Raoul (D) and former Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn (D).
He's been the Cook County Assessor since 2010, and the well-connected chairman of the Cook County Democratic Party since 2007, but this year Joe Berrios (left) faces what looks to be a more formidable threat to reelection than ever before. A June 2017 Chicago Tribune investigation exposed widespread inequities in the county's residential property tax system, while another Tribune/ProPublica Illinois piece six months later revealed that Berrios did not estimate the value of thousands of properties, sometimes simply carrying over the assessment from one year to the next. Rauner and Kennedy have been among the candidates for governor calling on Berrios to step down, while three members of Congress - Reps. Danny K. Davis, Bill Foster and Robin Kelly - have all endorsed his opponent, Fritz Kaegi. Kaegi has made campaign finance a core issue of his platform, saying he believes taking contributions from lawyers who appeal taxes is corrupt and vowing not to do so, at a time when Berrios' political ties are under increasing scrutiny.
In the fallout surrounding the ill-fated sweetened beverage tax, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle drew a challenger. Former Chicago Ald. Bob Fioretti represented the 2nd Ward from 2007 to 2015, when the redistricting map pushed him outside the ward boundaries and he decided instead to run for Chicago mayor. He eventually dropped out of the race, later launching an unsuccessful bid for a state Senate seat, though this time he could have more luck. Preckwinkle was formerly so popular that it seems she was one of the few candidates who could unseat Mayor Rahm Emanuel, but the controversial penny-per-ounce soda tax that lasted less than four months before it was repealed spurred lawsuits, angry retailers and potentially even blowback at the polls.
A major fight for the soul of the Democratic Party is happening right here in Illinois. Marketing consultant and anti-bullying advocate Marie Newman is mounting a challenge to longtime Rep. Dan Lipinski, a seven-term lawmaker who is seen as one of the most conservative Congressional Democrats. Lipinski has positioned himself against abortion rights, voted against the Affordable Care Act, and has taken other, more conservative stances on issues like immigration. Newman - who has earned support from various progressive groups as well as rare endorsements from sitting Democrats, Reps. Luis Gutierrez and Jan Schawkowsky - has painted herself as a grassroots candidate advocating for policies like universal healthcare, paid family leave and more.
Widely seen as one of the nation's most outspoken advocates for immigrants, longtime Rep. Luis Gutierrez announced in November that he would not seek reelection but insisted he's "not retiring" from the fight for immigrant rights. Nevertheless, the district he's represented for 24 years will soon have a new congressman. The Democratic candidates vying to take the seat include (from left to right): former Chicago Police Sgt. Richard Gonzalez, 1st Ward Ald. Proco Joe Moreno, executive director of nonprofit La Casa Norte Sol Flores, 15th Ward Ald. Raymond Lopez, and Cook County Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia, who Gutierrez himself endorsed for the role.
The race to represent Illinois' 6th Congressional District is garnering national attention, as it has implications well beyond its suburban boundaries. In 2016, GOP Rep. Peter Roskam (top right) held onto his seat even though Hillary Clinton won the the district - making him a high-profile target for Democrats. Roskam's votes on tax reform and to repeal Obamacare, plus criticism over his refusal to hold town hall meetings with constituents in person, have been among the issues that have spurred now seven candidates to jump in the Democratic primary race to unseat him. They include (top row, left to right): Rep. Bill Foster's former district chief of staff Carole Cheney, data analyst and former President Barack Obama's campaign staffer Ryan Huffman, Barrington Hills Plan Commissioner Kelly Mazeski, (bottom row, left to right) scientist and entrepreneur Sean Casten, co-owner of Anderson’s Bookshops and Naperville City Council member Becky Anderson Wilkins, regulatory attorney Jennifer Zordani, plus civil rights attorney and former educator Amanda Howland, who ran against Roskam in 2016.
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While he may not be on the ballot this year, you should still keep an eye on Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Even though the political focus this year will largely be on November 2018, the mayoral election comes up quickly, with his name on the ballot in February 2019. With the political chess game surrounding Gutierrez's retirement, Garcia, who drove Emanuel to an unprecedented runoff election in 2015, is presumably out of the picture. Thus far, only former Chicago Public Schools principal Troy LaRaviere has announced his candidacy - though ex-Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy, who Emanuel fired in 2015 amid fallout over the shooting of Laquan McDonald, has been publicly mulling a run against his old boss. Though the election itself isn't this year, it will come quickly, and we'll certainly know by the end of 2018 who's in and who's out.
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