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Local News

Are Illinois Congressmen safe in wake of Donald Trump?

Are Illinois Republicans safe in wake of Donald Trump?

President Donald Trump’s turbulent first year in office begs an important question for Republican congressmen defending their seats in November:

Is anyone safe?

In the swath of rural northern Illinois between DeKalb, Kane and McHenry counties, there are a trio of incumbent U.S. representatives – Adam Kinzinger, D-16, Peter Roskam, D-6, and Randy Hultgren, D-14 – who vote with Trump more than 90 percent of the time.

They now face three Democratic opponents posing threats to their seats in an election that may be primed for a "blue wave."

It's typical for the sitting president's party to lose seats in Congress during midterms, but talks of the wave also stem from Democrat Conor Lamb’s victory last month in a Pennsylvania House district that President Donald Trump won by almost 20 points in 2016.

Democrats are now eyeing their chance to retake Congress.

"We’re seeing enthusiasm for change and having a voice in congress that reflects our values," said Lauren Underwood, a Democrat challenging Republican Rep. Randy Hultgren in the 14th Congressional District. She is a 30-year-old Naperville nurse who President Barack Obama appointed to serve as a Senior Advisor at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Underwood's campaign is honing in on Hultgren's congressional track record – one that shows his positions align with Trump.

An exploration of heralded election-predictor Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight blog shows how voting records of northern Illinois congressmen align with the president.

In the realm of policy, they mime Trump, minus the superlative language.

Kinzinger votes with Trump 98.5 percent of the time. Hultgren votes with Trump 95.7 percent of the time, Roskam votes with Trump 94.1 percent of the time.

Trump's approval ratings have hovered in the 30s for much of his presidency, and only 3 in 10 Americans said the U.S. was heading in the right direction, according to a poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. In the same survey, 67 percent of Americans said the country was more divided because of Trump.

A Morning Consult survey published Wednesday showed 60 percent of Illinois residents disapproved of the president – up 20 points since he took office in January 2017. On a national scale, Trump boasts a 40 percent approval rating.

About a third of Republicans across America disapprove of Trump's job performance – a detail that alludes to danger for congressional Republicans vying to maintain control of the U.S. House.

Hultgren said he's at once unapologetic about his congressional record and aware of the challenge he faces in the November race against Underwood.

"This will be a very tough election," said Hultgren, one of two congressmen who represent portions of McHenry County who voted for the American Health Care Act to replace the Affordable Care Act. Roskam was the other one. "I’ve gone through tough elections before, and we’ll be ready."

Kinzinger's campaign did not respond to requests to comment for this story. His Democrat opponent Sara Dady said Illinois is in store for a "blue tsunami."

“Congress is supposed to be a check on destructive executive power,” Dady, a Rockford immigration lawyer, said. “We do not have an advocate who has our back in Washington, D.C."

In Illinois' 6th Congressional District, primary vote totals suggest Roskam could be in for a dogfight with Democrat Sean Casten. The Downers Grove businessman said there's one option for Republican incumbents if the election is a referendum on their voting records:

They will lose by a wide margin, Casten said.

In the primary, 62,990 people voted Democratic for seven candidates, up from 8,615 in the 2014 primary. The 6th Congressional District – serving parts of Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake and McHenry counties – voted for Mitt Romney in 2012 and Hillary Clinton in 2016.

For Roskam, a six-term congressman from Wheaton, this is familiar territory.

"I've seen it before," Roskam said. During his Congressional race in 2006, voters had become unsatisfied with President George W. Bush and the years-old Iraq War. Roskam's opponent was a Democratic national figure: Tammy Duckworth, who retired from the U.S. Army as a lieutenant colonel after she lost both legs in that war.

Roskam defeated Duckworth – now the junior senator from Illinois – with 51 percent of the vote.

Roskam defended his voting record as a reflection of what his constituents want. When it comes to Trump's impact on the general election, Roskam said he has been vocal about the billionaire's behavior as the country's chief diplomat.

"I've made it very clear that he should put the Twitter feed away and call it a day," Roskam said. "He's a very mercurial figure, as we know."

Roskam contended he has not always been on the president's side when it came to Illinois issues – like Trump's push to cut funding for the preservation of Lake Michigan and other Great Lakes from $300 million to $10 million: "We were successful in restoring that funding completely," he said.

Roskam said his ability to get things done will propel him in November.

"There's a Midwestern sensibility to this district. In other words, it's very much a district that looks for people to get things done, and it's very accomplishment-oriented," Roskam said. "That's what I'm going to be talking a lot about in this campaign."

• The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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