In 2018, Rep. Sean Casten turned the 6th Congressional District blue for the first time in decades. Now, the freshman Democrat looks to defend his seat from a challenge by two candidates: Republican Jeanne Ives and Libertarian Bill Redpath, the former quite a familiar face in Illinois politics.
Casten defeated six-term incumbent Rep. Peter Roskam by more than 7 points in one of the most high-profile and contentious races in the country during the 2018 midterm elections, a cycle defined by suburban voters turning against the GOP in droves – a narrative that certainly applied to this bellwether district.
The 6th District race last cycle garnered plenty of national attention from the beginning, after Roskam won his seat in 2016 even though Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton won the district by 7 points over President Donald Trump - making Roskam a prime target for Democrats looking to take back the House.
The district, largely in DuPage County, had previously been red for decades, represented by Rep. Henry Hyde from 1975 to 2007 and then by Roskam through his 2018 defeat. More than 82% of its residents are white, with a median household income of more than $105,000 a year – the wealthiest of all Congressional districts in Illinois and well above the national average, census data shows.
Casten, a scientist and entrepreneur, highlighted his experience working in the environmental and energy sectors and attacked Roskam over his votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act and for his role as one of the architects of the GOP's 2017 tax cuts experts say largely benefitted corporations and the wealthy.
That effort proved successful and Casten, of Downers Grove, was able to ride the so-called “blue wave” to victory in an area many previously thought was simply out of reach for Democrats.
Casten’s now trying to win a second term over both Redpath and Ives - a conservative firebrand who most recently mounted a nearly-successful primary challenge against the incumbent Illinois governor from her same political party.
A West Point graduate and Army veteran, Ives is a former state lawmaker who represented her west suburban House district, which includes parts of Wheaton, Winfield and Naperville, in the General Assembly from 2013 to 2019.
At the same time Casten was running for Congress in 2018, Ives was challenging then-Gov. Bruce Rauner from the right in the Republican primary. She gained the support of conservative groups, donors and voters angered by his signing of legislation to allow Illinois to cover abortions for state employees and Medicaid recipients, as well as a measure to prevent law enforcement from detaining individuals based solely on their immigration status, among other issues.
One of the most notable elements of her campaign was a controversial ad featuring actors thanking Rauner for bills he had signed, including an actor depicting a transgender individual, thanking Rauner for allowing bathroom access in Illinois. The state GOP denounced the ad, widely decried as offensive.
Still, in DuPage County – Ives’ home turf and the county that makes up the majority of the 6th District – she beat Rauner by more than four points, though she ultimately lost the statewide vote by just three points, a margin slimmer than most anticipated, particularly given how little campaign cash she had relative to her opponent.
Long known for her outspoken style, Ives went on the offensive against Casten from the moment she launched her Congressional campaign, calling him a “false prophet” and a “race-baiter,” as well as repeatedly attempting to paint him as a Democratic Socialist. Meanwhile, Casten has deployed former chair of the Illinois Republican Party Pat Brady to appeal to voters, running an ad in which Brady says she and Trump “deny climate change and dangerously ignore the scientists fighting the coronavirus.”
Also on the ballot is Redpath, the Libertarian candidate who has previously run for office six times in Virginia. He told the Chicago Sun-Times he moved to Illinois in October 2019 and works as an appraiser in the media and telecom sectors for a financial consulting company.
In a district that backed Republicans in three out of the last five presidential elections, will voters again reject Trump and further cement 2018’s seismic suburban Democratic shift? Or will the long Republican-leaning district return to its more conservative ways?