The race in Illinois' 14th Congressional District between Rep. Lauren Underwood, the freshman Democrat, and her Republican challenger Jim Oberweis still remained too close to call Monday, with Underwood holding a slight lead despite Oberweis' attempt to claim victory the day after the election as votes continued to be counted.
Underwood led Oberweis by 1,089 votes as of Monday afternoon, earning 192,472 votes to his 191,383 votes with 99% of the vote counted, according to NBC News, which has not yet made a projection in the race. That equated to a lead of 50.1% of the vote to 49.9%.
Illinois election officials said Monday that more than 344,000 mail ballots have been returned but not yet counted statewide, while the number of mail ballots not yet returned stood at more than 318,000. Ballots that are postmarked by Election Day on Nov. 3 can legally be counted if they arrive within two weeks, by Nov. 17. The Illinois State Board of Elections also said more than 46,000 provisional ballots had not yet been counted as of Monday morning.
Thousands of those ballots that have not yet been counted are from voters in the counties within the 14th District: Lake, McHenry, Kane, Kendall, DeKalb, Will and DuPage counties. While the district encompasses mostly McHenry and Kane counties, Lake County had the largest number of returned but uncounted ballots as of Monday, standing at nearly 69,000, with more than 40,000 ballots not yet received.
The number of ballots still out or uncounted, combined with the slim margin separating the two candidates, makes a projection in the race more difficult to make.
Still, Oberweis - an Illinois state senator and perennial candidate who has run for U.S. Senate three times since 2002, governor in 2006 and Congress in 2008 - declared victory on Wednesday, less than 24 hours after polls closed when he had a lead of roughly 1,300 votes.
"It appears that we have won a tough fought campaign," Oberweis said in a video, he posted on Facebook, claiming he "prevailed" and falsely claiming that there were "only a handful" of ballots left to be counted.
Underwood's campaign pushed back on that assertion, disputing his early claim of victory.
“Jim Oberweis doesn’t get to call this election: the voters do,” Underwood spokeswoman Andra Belknap said in a statement. “There are thousands of votes yet to be counted. We appreciate every voter who made their voice heard, and our county clerks and election officials must count every ballot in as expeditious and transparent a manner as is possible. Based on publicly available data, we remain confident that once ballots are counted, this race will reflect that the voters have reelected Congresswoman Lauren Underwood.”
In a video posted to social media on Thursday, Underwood said her campaign believed a majority of the outstanding ballots were in her favor, adding, "I'm feeling confident about the results and I can't wait to celebrate with you soon."
The 14th District race was long seen as likely to be one of the most contentious in Illinois. In 2018, Democrats eyed the district as a potential long shot pick-up in their bid to take back the House. Underwood ousted the longtime Republican incumbent in a stunning upset, winning by 5 points in the highly competitive suburban battleground.
She is the first African American, the first woman and the first Millennial to ever represent the majority-white district. At age 32 when she was sworn in, she also made history by becoming the youngest Black woman to ever serve in the House.
The district was long a Republican stronghold - represented from 1987 to 2007 by Dennis Hastert, the longest-serving GOP Speaker of the House who later served a prison sentence in connection with a hush money scheme to hide his history of sexually abusing young boys.
President Donald Trump won the district by 4 points in 2016, which was down from Mitt Romney’s 10-point margin of victory four years earlier - but a victory nonetheless. With Trump at the top of the ticket this cycle, seven Republicans jumped into the primary race with hopes that the presidential reelection campaign might buoy Republican efforts to win the district back.
Oberweis won the GOP primary in March, a contest in which all the candidates painted themselves as fairly hardline conservatives, with many explicitly hanging their hats on Trump support in an effort to emerge from the GOP primary victorious.
Oberweis is an Illinois state senator from Sugar Grove, in office since 2013. He chairs his family’s Oberweis Dairy business, purchasing it more than 30 years ago after starting a career in finance. He's used his considerable wealth to fund campaigns in the past, and this race was no different.
Underwood is a nurse and health policy expert from Naperville who previously worked on the implementation of the Affordable Care Act under former President Barack Obama, who endorsed her in 2018 and again this cycle – as did Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.
She has a heart condition and centered the message of her first campaign on health care, often saying that she decided to run against her predecessor Rep. Randy Hultgren after he voted for a bill that did not include protections for those with pre-existing conditions. Since taking office, Underwood has continued that focus in her messaging and often touts a bill that she passed and Trump signed into law to help make lower-cost generic insulin available more quickly.
In a large class of freshman Democrats – some with skyrocketing national profiles – Underwood has been noticeably careful to strike a more moderate tone and emphasize a willingness to reach across the aisle to serve her more conservative-leaning district. She did, however, vote to impeach Trump in December 2019, saying he “demonstrated a pattern of corrupt behavior, and abused his power for his own personal political gain.”
With ballots still left to be counted, It remains to be seen if the area still backed Trump this year - and who will represent the district in Congress come January.