DuPage County in Illinois used to be the heart of the Republican Party. When I was growing up in next-door Cook County, we used to look at Pate Philip, former state Senate president, and other notable Republican leaders with a mixture of respect and envy. It is far easier to be a Republican in a Republican county.
These days, the second-largest county in the state of Illinois is decidedly not Republican. The county board has an 11-to-6 Democratic majority, and each of the five congressional seats that touches DuPage County is now in blue hands.
Former President Trump didn’t cause the trajectory of the transition of DuPage from red to blue — though he accelerated it — the process really started with the election of Former President Obama in 2008.
DuPage County is probably Illinois’s most economically ascendant county. Its median household income is nearly $100,000. It is the home of several corporations. Two renowned national laboratories, Fermi and Argonne, are located in DuPage.
Over the past three decades, DuPage has been transformed from a sleepy bastion of reflexive conservative and white Republicanism to a more diverse, more upscale and more educated population. The county is 13.1 percent Asian-American and 15 percent Hispanic. What has happened in DuPage County has happened in wealthier suburbs around the country, but its transformation has even more dramatic implications for control of Congress, because so many House seats are centered in the county.
The ideal Republican candidate from this county would be able to build a coalition of supporters, some of whom strongly support Trump and some of whom are more concerned with local issues, such as crime, the economy and the terrible stewardship of Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D). Under the Pritzker administration, crime has spiraled out of control, state taxes are among the nation’s highest, and the cost of living has made the state unaffordable for many of its residents. Statistically speaking, there aren’t that many Trump supporters in DuPage County. He got trounced by Hillary Clinton in 2016 and by President Biden in 2020. But that doesn’t mean a Republican candidate in the state of Illinois can afford to run against Trump. Rep. Adam Kinzinger (Ill.) wouldn’t have won the Republican nomination in any district in Illinois had he decided not to hang up his spurs in this election.
Catalina Lauf, who is running against Democratic Rep. Bill Foster in Illinois’s 11th District, is an intriguing candidate able to unify both factions of the Republican base and to appeal to the ascendant DuPage County immigrants who are up for grabs this fall. Her mother in a first-generation immigrant from Guatemala, and Lauf speaks fluent Spanish, which comes in handy for the more than 25 percent of the district who are Hispanic. Before going to Washington to work at the Commerce Department under Secretary Wilbur Ross, Lauf was a successful entrepreneur who built a baby formula business with her sister Madeline.
Foster refuses to debate Lauf, and for good reason. He would have a hard time defending the one-party government in Illinois that gave us Mike Madigan, indicted this year on federal racketeering charges, as speaker of the Illinois House for decades. Pritzker also signed a law that will make it far easier for criminals to get out of jail. Rising crime rates in DuPage County, like in suburbs across the country, is becoming a real political problem for the Democrats.
Immigration is another issue that is becoming problematic for the Democrats, and Lauf is better positioned than James Oberweis, a Republican whose anti-immigration rhetoric alienated new immigrants in previous elections. Lauf can say with total credibility that protecting the border, stopping the flood of illegal and deadly drugs, and stopping human trafficking should be a high priority for all residents in her district, no matter what their national origin.
Lauf has been able to raise close to $1.5 million in campaign contributions, mostly through small donations, by saying that she, if elected, she will become the anti-Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). So she has some money to back up her message.
In this election, keep an eye on DuPage County and Illinois’s 11th District. What once was red and then blue just might turn a little bit redder in 2022.
Feehery is a partner at EFB Advocacy and blogs at thefeeherytheory.com. He served as spokesman to former House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), as communications director to former House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Texas) and as a speechwriter to former House Minority Leader Bob Michel (R-Ill.).
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