In a year of political campaigns filled with name-calling, smears, half-truths and outright falsehoods, the races for two suburban congressional seats have fit in nicely.
In the 6th District, Democratic U.S. Rep. Sean Casten faces off against Republican Jeanne Ives. In the 14th District, Democratic U.S. Rep. Lauren Underwood’s showdown is with Republican Jim Oberweis. Both incumbents are liberal, first-term lawmakers — and both challengers are staunch conservatives with state legislative experience.
And both races have been marred by mudslinging in ads, debates, interviews and social media posts.
Casten, a Downers Grove resident and the former CEO of an energy recycling company, defeated six-term Republican incumbent Peter Roskam to win this seat in 2018. He was part of the blue wave that gave Democrats majority control of the House that year, as was Underwood.
Ives is a U.S. Military Academy graduate, an Army veteran and a former state legislator from Wheaton who unsuccessfully ran for governor in 2018. She represented the 42nd state House District from 2013 to 2019.
The candidates disagree on nearly every issue — abortion, the groups and factors behind this year’s protests over racism and police violence, President Donald Trump’s policies and the COVID-19 crisis.
Gun control has been a particularly hot-button issue.
Casten is an outspoken supporter of gun control measures, and he proposed a national firearm buyback program during one endorsement interview. His campaign received financial support from a gun-control advocacy group named after former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was wounded in a 2011 mass shooting.
“We have more guns per capita than any other country in the world,” Casten said in an online forum this fall. “If we took 100 million guns out of circulation tomorrow, we’d still have more guns per capita than any other country in the world.”
Ives, who’s backed by the National Rifle Association, accused Casten of wanting to abolish the Second Amendment and its protections of gun ownership rights. She didn’t express a desire for any new gun legislation.
“We’re not actually enforcing the gun laws that we currently have on the books,” said Ives, who voted against several gun-control measures while a state representative.
Casten and Ives also have argued vehemently about climate change. Warning people about humanity’s impact on the global environment was a tent pole of Casten’s first campaign and it continues to be a priority. Ives has questioned mankind’s role when it comes to climate change, even saying in one interview that factors “in the solar system” and in the oceans and volcanic activity have more significant impact.
Ives also called Casten a hypocrite for complaining about pollution while being invested in a biological energy production business that creates more air pollution than burning coal.
The pair have dueled in TV ads and on social media, too.
Ives criticized tweets and comments Casten has made about some Republican lawmakers and Republican voters, saying he’s “fed the acrimony” in the country.
One of Ives’ TV ads accused Casten of calling his $174,000 annual congressional salary “peanuts,” a line Casten’s campaign spokesman said misrepresented a comment Casten made in an interview.
A Casten ad tagged Ives for giving Trump an ‘A’ grade on policy during a Daily Herald interview this year.
But the ad truncated Ives’ comment during that interview to remove the reference to policy, and ignored how she criticized the way Trump has dealt with some critics.
The 6th District includes parts of Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake and McHenry counties.
Libertarian Bill Redpath of West Dundee, a perennial candidate who moved to Illinois from Virginia last year, also is running and is a self-admitted longshot.
The 14th District contest between Underwood and Oberweis has been no less ugly.
Underwood, a registered nurse from Naperville who worked in bureaucratic and teaching roles before joining Congress, defeated four-term Republican incumbent Randy Hultgren to win her seat in 2018.
Oberweis is a state senator from Sugar Grove who owns the dairy bearing his name. He has represented the 25th District since 2013, and his tenure there will end in January regardless of the congressional race’s outcome.
Oberweis also has been a regular candidate for Congress, the U.S. Senate and the governor’s office over the last 20 years.
In interview after interview, Oberweis has tried to paint Underwood as a radical who votes in lockstep with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
“Her values are not our values,” Oberweis said in one debate.
Underwood has run a much more positive campaign, focusing on her accomplishments in office, her communication with constituents and her efforts to reach across the political aisle on legislation.
In one TV ad, Underwood touted three pieces of legislation she proposed that had bipartisan support and eventually were signed into law by Trump. All three were absorbed into broader bills before being enacted, something that wasn’t mentioned in the ad.
One of Oberweis’ commercials made a claim about Underwood that was disproved by the Daily Herald, the Chicago Sun-Times and the Better Government Association’s PolitiFact Illinois fact-checking enterprise.
The spot implied Underwood described recent looting and riots as “beautiful protests.” In truth, Underwood had used that phrase during a Sun-Times endorsement interview to describe people standing up for justice and equality — not the violence.
Oberweis — a vociferous supporter of local police during the campaign — repeatedly accused Underwood of not condemning that violence, when in fact she was critical of it in an interview in early September.
In one debate, Oberweis called on Underwood to denounce grass-roots movements urging government agencies to defund police departments and shift that cash to mental health care, housing and other social services. Underwood didn’t respond.
Underwood has thrown a little shade, too.
During an online debate, Underwood called comments Oberweis has made in opposition of abortion and in favor of limiting access to birth control “extremely disturbing.”
“His views, frankly, are radical and out of touch with the people in our community,” said Underwood, who supports unrestricted access to reproductive health services.
Underwood also publicly accused Oberweis of having bigoted views, calling some of his previous political commercials “extremely offensive” and racist. Oberweis’ campaign objected to the accusations.
The two candidates have some common ground. For example, both supported voting by mail and urged people to vote early.
Both called health care a right and not a privilege, and both said mankind is responsible for climate change.
Their preferred solutions for rising health care costs and environmental problems differed.
And while Underwood wants to boost U.S. Postal Service funding, Oberweis suggested the financially struggling agency should end Saturday deliveries or deliver mail every other day to save money.
The race has drawn the attention of the presidential candidates. Trump recently endorsed Oberweis in a tweet and reportedly stumped for the House candidate during a telephone event last week.
Underwood was endorsed in September by Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden. Biden endorsed Casten in the 6th District race.
The 14th District includes parts of DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry, Will, DeKalb and Kendall counties.