Sean Casten

Illinois' 6th Congressional District: Newman, Casten Face Off in Democratic Primary

The 6th Congressional District primaries are races to watch for multiple reasons: it’s the only district in the state where two Democratic incumbents are running against one another in the newly redistricted map, and it will likely be among the more competitive races in the state in the general election this fall.

As Democrats in the state legislature redrew the congressional map, they carved up several Chicago-area districts for multiple purposes: in part to create a new mostly Hispanic district, reflecting the growth of the Latino population in Illinois, and to make some districts more safely Democratic for some of the more vulnerable incumbents, hoping to protect their seats and ultimately the party’s slim majority in the U.S. House.

But the new map put two Democratic incumbents – Rep. Sean Casten and Rep. Marie Newman – in a rather uncomfortable position, squishing portions of both their old districts together into a new one, prompting them to run against each other. The 6th District retained parts of west suburban DuPage County like Downers Grove and Lombard, but now also includes part of southwestern Cook County, like Orland Park and Chicago Ridge, which were part of the previous map’s 3rd District.

On the Democratic side, three candidates are on the ballot:

Rep. Sean Casten: Casten, of Downers Grove, became the first Democrat to represent the 6th District in decades when he ousted longtime incumbent Rep. Peter Roskam in 2018. He fended off a challenge from former state Rep. Jeanne Ives in 2020 to retain the seat for a second term. Before taking office, Casten was a scientist and entrepreneur who now touts his legislative work and particular focus on climate issues and clean energy. Federal campaign finance records show he has a distinct cash advantage over his opponents, raising nearly $2.7 million through the end of the first quarter of the year, compared to Newman’s $1.3 million.  

Rep. Marie Newman: Newman currently represents the 3rd District, having primaried longtime incumbent Democrat Rep. Dan Lipinski from the left twice to win the seat – falling just short in 2018 before defeating him in 2020. In the remap, her La Grange home was drawn into the 4th District, held by Rep. Jesús "Chuy" García, though a large portion of her district was put into the 6th, prompting her to challenge Casten instead. Prior to running for Congress, Newman was a marketing consultant and anti-bullying advocate. Much like in her first two campaigns against Lipinski, an anti-abortion social conservative, Newman is positioning herself to the left of Casten (though he’s far less conservative than Lipinski was). She’s staked out more progressive stances like supporting Medicare for All and publicly rejecting corporate PAC donations. Hanging over her campaign is a report from the Office of Congressional Ethics released earlier this year alleging that she may have offered employment in her government office to a potential primary opponent in order to gain his political support ahead of the 2020 primary. That investigation remains ongoing.

Charles Hughes: Hughes, of Chicago, previously ran for the 3rd District in the 2020 Democratic primary, winning just 2.3% of the vote to finish a distant fourth in the race Newman won. He has said he works for Nicor Gas and that he was previously involved in the political operation of former Rep. Bill Lipinski, Dan Lipinski’s father.

There are six Republicans looking to win their party’s nomination to try and flip the seat:

Niki Conforti: Conforti, of Glen Ellyn, is an energy consultant who has previously worked in the health care industry.

Keith Pekau: Pekau is the mayor of Orland Park, winning that office in 2017. He is an Air Force veteran who later worked in consulting and started a landscaping company.

Gary Grasso: Grasso is an attorney who has been the mayor of Burr Ridge since 2019, as well as from 2005 to 2012. In between, he was on the DuPage County Board and ran for Illinois attorney general in 2018 but lost in the GOP primary.

Scott Kaspar: Kaspar, also of Orland Park, is an engineer and an attorney who most recently ran unsuccessfully for Orland Township supervisor in 2021.

Catherine O’Shea: O’Shea, of Oak Lawn, works in real estate and has previously served as a trustee for the Worth Township Trustees of Schools. She unsuccessfully ran for the 3rd District in 2020, losing in the Republican primary.

Rob Cruz: Cruz, of Oak Lawn, is a business owner who was elected to the Oak Lawn Community High School District 229 Board of Education in 2021 but was removed earlier this year after suing Gov. J.B. Pritzker over the state’s policy requiring masks in schools. The other members said he filed the suit without informing the rest of the Board, dismissed it and then filed a new lawsuit that included the Board as a defendant.

The 6th District has in recent election cycles served as a sort of bellwether, where political observers have been able to see a major national political trend play out on a smaller scale: suburban voters leaning more Democratic as those areas grow denser, more diverse and more educated and as the Republican Party under former President Donald Trump shifts farther to the right.

The partisan lean of the newly drawn district is D+6, according to FiveThirtyEight, so it’s more Democratic than it once was – one of the most competitive districts in the U.S. in 2018 – but that’s certainly no guarantee it will stay that way in November. That may depend on two major factors: if the midterm elections nationally turn out to be as bruising for the party in power as they’ve been in recent cycles, as well as which candidate each party nominates in their primaries.

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