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Did the Republicans catch Bustos off guard?

Tuesday, Oct 27, 2020 - Posted by Rich Miller

* Sorry for coming a bit late to this, but here’s The Hill

Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.), the head of House Democrats’ campaign arm, is facing an increasingly competitive reelection bid to represent Illinois’ 17th District.

Bustos, the chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), represents a congressional district that then-candidate Donald Trump narrowly won in 2016. And while she trounced her GOP competitor in 2018, winning by more than 24 percentage points, Bustos is now facing what may be her most expensive and heated battle yet against GOP candidate Esther Joy King.

The Cook Political Report on Wednesday moved Bustos’ race against King from likely Democrat to a lean Democrat district. And internal GOP polling has also elevated Republican hopes that they can win the seat from the woman leading the House Democrats’ campaign effort.

Bustos, in a Zoom call with reporters on Wednesday, projected confidence heading into the final stretch, while also acknowledging that she has always expected tough races with her Trump-leaning district.

“We are well prepared to finish strong and I live the advice that I give to all of our frontliners and red to blue candidates, which is run your race like you’re running for mayor…everything is hyperlocal,” Bustos said in part. “You show up, you listen, you fight for the people at home, and everything you do is for the people you represent.”

Asked why the race was tightening, Bustos said it is a “Trump district” and noted that her campaign has had to figure out ways to campaign in her district’s 14 counties amid the pandemic.

It’s more of a swing district at the very top. President Trump won it by less than a point, about the same as Gov. Pritzker won it two years ago. The Republicans think they caught her napping. We’ll see.


“[H]er opponent, who supports the lawsuit that would raise health care costs and take away protections for people with preexisting conditions, just moved to the district from Chicago right before filing to run for Congress,” said Bustos campaign manager Tom Bryant. […]

Some reports have also raised questions about King’s claims about starting various social media and media-focused companies, which have little presence online. King, in response, has blasted Bustos for the scrutiny, claiming she is attempting to distract from her record representing the district.

“This is what Washington politicians like Cheri Bustos do when voters have had enough of them - they attack and distort their opponent’s record as a distraction from the fact that Bustos is helping create jobs in China, not here Illinois,” King said.

King’s campaign has also dismissed accusations of being a carpetbagger, noting she moved for military training and opted to remain in the area. […]

King and other GOP critics, meanwhile, are claiming that Bustos is absent from the district, which is helping her campaign gain traction.

* Peoria Public Radio

A King-commissioned poll conducted by the Tarrance Group of 418 17th District voters Oct. 10-12 put Bustos at 49% and King at 44%, with 7% saying they were still undecided. Seventy percent of th0se polled recognized King’s name.

The King campaign and pollster declined to release the full polling data, or provide additional information about the results on the record.

Wasserman said Bustos became chairwoman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in part because she proved she can pull off Democratic victories in more conservative districts through her own success, but said that role also opens her up to attacks linking her closely to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

* From Mark Maxwell’s interview

Maxwell: All right. Also this: I think this is your first time running for public office. Correct me if I’m wrong, a political newcomer, but not your first time in government. I noticed on your resume, you worked for Governor Rauner for a short stint. That was back in his early days, but didn’t last too long. What happened there? Why’d you leave? How’d you like it?

King: Yeah. Well, what I loved, Mark, about working for the state of Illinois as Director of Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Technology is I got to be around business owners. I got to be around entrepreneurs and it was my job to help grow and promote the business community of Illinois, which is actually exactly what I’m excited to be doing as Representative. Our business owners need help right now, Mark. We absolutely need support during this time of pandemic. For example, there’s a section of the Illinois 17th that has been rolled back, and business owners are like, “We can’t shut down again, Esther. We’re not going to make it through. And so getting them support is actually really critical, Mark, and what we’ve seen from Congress, whose job it is to help pass a stimulus package… I mean, talk about some political game playing. What Nancy Pelosi is doing right now in her left hand lieutenant Cheri Bustos, my opponent, she is preventing support coming directly to these businesses that are desperate that need help right now. And that’s what’s important. And that’s what this is about, is bringing better representation to the Illinois 17th Congressional District.

Maxwell: You were there in that job with the state for in just a little over a year. Why’d you leave?

King: It was a decision that was, came from the, the administration. We did not agree on the methodology and some of the values that were being placed and we split ways.

Maxwell: How would you grade Governor Rauner’s time in office?

King: That’s not relevant to this election. What is important is Cheri Bustos’ time in an office. She has been in office for eight years. During her time in office, she’s only authored three bills, three bills renaming three post offices. That’s all we’ve gotten in eight years. Come on, now. We deserve better than that.

* Related…

* Bustos talks campaign, COVID relief, and Trump


  1. - pat - Tuesday, Oct 27, 20 @ 7:11 am:

    King was fired by the Rauner administration and is trying to squirrel her way back into the GOP establishment. IL-17 doesn’t vote for a carpetbagger.

  2. - JS Mill - Tuesday, Oct 27, 20 @ 8:18 am:

    I think the GOP did catch Bustos napping a bit, her campaign has not seemed to be working as hard as in the past. Put that isn’t based on hard data. Just an impression. I still think Bustos wins by at least 3 points. I cannot vote for a GOP candidate in the Trump era. The GOP will have to undergo a major metamorphosis before I can ever vote for any of their candidates.

  3. - Chatham Resident - Tuesday, Oct 27, 20 @ 8:39 am:

    Bustos will probably win next Tuesday but it will be interesting what IL-17 looks like after the remap. Although a lot of it will depend on what happens in the Davis-Londrigan race in IL-13 next Tuesday (whether that district becomes a central/southern IL D sink if Londrigan wins, or gets merged with one or all of the 12th, 15th, or 18th if Davis wins).

    Although IL-17 could easily be strengthened with little difficulty in the remap by adding Macomb (WIU) to the district plus swapping Bloomington/Normal (ISU/IWU) into the 17th from the 13th.

  4. - Marty36 - Tuesday, Oct 27, 20 @ 8:46 am:

    King has run a strong grassroots campaign, but Bustos wins. King should have started her media 6 months ago.

  5. - Res Ipsa - Tuesday, Oct 27, 20 @ 8:54 am:

    Pelosi dropping 600k in the last week certainly didn’t come in because Bustos isn’t worried…..

  6. - Ducky LaMoore - Tuesday, Oct 27, 20 @ 9:09 am:

    The race is going to be a lot closer than last time around. Call me skeptical, though, I still think Bustos wins, even if it is by only a few points. But it opens up big possibilities in 2022 if Biden wins the presidency.

  7. - McGuppin - Tuesday, Oct 27, 20 @ 9:16 am:

    Repubs see a slight opening in what is likely to be a horrible election night for their party…I certainly don’t blame this for taking a shot.

    That said, Bustos should be just fine and to this extent this distracts them from other races in the state I say go get ‘em.

  8. - Not a Billionaire - Tuesday, Oct 27, 20 @ 9:25 am:

    You are right McGuppin . Daily Kos reports the Conservative Congressional Leadership Fund is going to dump 400000 when their new poll shows a 48 to 42 Bustos lead. That shows an unchanged race . I can only explain they need to go after someone in leadership.

  9. - Oswego Willy - Tuesday, Oct 27, 20 @ 9:28 am:

    Did they catch Bustos napping? “We’ll see”

    I’ll probably be more interested (win or lose with Bustos, no matter) if the Illinois side of the QC is voting similar to the Iowa side of the QC, and how much of a regional impact that may have made in the race, with the national ticket going down to someone like Bustos on our side of the river…

  10. - Seaver41 - Tuesday, Oct 27, 20 @ 9:50 am:

    Yes they did catch Bustos napping. The Grad Tax amendment in conjunction with high unemployment, Ms Bustos being in lockstep with the National Democrats compromises Ms. Bustos. She does not have the same protection that Chicagoland democrats have. It will be close–as it should be.

  11. - Precinct Captain - Tuesday, Oct 27, 20 @ 9:51 am:

    “Our own polls show us trailing” is not the win the GOP thinks it is. It’ll be 2018 redux and the Senate is going down for Mitch McConnell.

  12. - Oswego Willy - Tuesday, Oct 27, 20 @ 9:53 am:

    === It will be close–as it should be.===

    If she wins, the new map she’ll get will reflect some things this close race exposed. That’s also a help. If Bustos won in a blowout, that new district might look different than what it might if it’s closer.

    “We’ll see”. It’s a crazy time, this election.

  13. - Some history - Tuesday, Oct 27, 20 @ 9:59 am:

    This is a tough race to get a bead on because the last two elections were so lopsided. Remember she ran against Bill Fawell two years ago, with all the conspiracy-theory baggage that came with him. And two years before, Patrick Harlan basically didn’t raise any money. So it’s been six years since there’s been a real race in the district to compare against.

  14. - Not a Billionaire - Tuesday, Oct 27, 20 @ 10:04 am:

    OW Monmouth has polls inn the 2 districts in the other side of the river . Democrats ahead by similar numbers.

  15. - Oswego Willy - Tuesday, Oct 27, 20 @ 10:07 am:

    - Not a Billionaire -

    Thanks. Appreciate it.

  16. - So_Ill - Tuesday, Oct 27, 20 @ 10:28 am:

    Bustos will win by 10+ points.

  17. - Anonymous - Tuesday, Oct 27, 20 @ 10:37 am:

    ==So it’s been six years since there’s been a real race in the district to compare against.==

    The rematch with Schilling in 2014 wasn’t much of a contest either. The GOP went off-air a couple of months before Election Day. IL17 hasn’t seen a real competition since Bustos won in 2012.

  18. - Lincoln Lad - Tuesday, Oct 27, 20 @ 10:41 am:

    The Dems will own Illinois on November 3rd… Bustos will be fine.

  19. - Responsa - Tuesday, Oct 27, 20 @ 10:52 am:

    It’s not my district and I have had very few conversations with residents in her district. But from my outsider’s view the Dems did her no favors when they made her chairwoman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Her seeming eager acceptance (especially as a relatively inexperienced new congressperson) makes her vulnerable to questions as to whether she was more focused on her political ambitions than the immediate concerns of her district. This is an interesting race and definitely one to follow.

  20. - Rutro - Tuesday, Oct 27, 20 @ 10:55 am:

    Interesting, I think Neuman has been napping in her race as well, she will probably still win, but I will not be surprised if its close.

  21. - Baloneymous - Tuesday, Oct 27, 20 @ 11:01 am:

    worked briefly with King at DCEO. wait, she didn’t agree on methodology and values with the Rauner people? so when they hired her they didn’t tell her the plan was to drive DCEO into the ground and move all the cool kids to the privatized side? she actually thought she was hired to do her job at DCEO? and they fired her. and she still doesn’t know? and know she’s running for Congress. oh boy…

    how is ole Intersect Illinois doing these days? their website is like a maze of nothingness.

  22. - MJH - Tuesday, Oct 27, 20 @ 11:04 am:

    Lots of EJK signs where I live. Few Bustos signs. Looking forward to voting for Ms. King.

  23. - Rich Miller - Tuesday, Oct 27, 20 @ 11:05 am:

    ===signs where I live===

    Can anyone tell this person that signs don’t vote?

  24. - Oswego Willy - Tuesday, Oct 27, 20 @ 11:20 am:

    === Can anyone tell this person that signs don’t vote?===


    Ok, I needed that.

    The magic yard sign argument.

    The only thing close to the yard sign argument is the “counties vote” argument.

  25. - Streator Curmudgeon - Tuesday, Oct 27, 20 @ 11:21 am:

    King has a hard time denying she’s a carpetbagger. Bustos has moved up in the House power circles, which is a good thing for the district. I see Bustos getting re-elected.

  26. - Live Wire - Tuesday, Oct 27, 20 @ 11:21 am:

    But she has a lot of signs in strip malls and the right of way

  27. - Candy Dogood - Tuesday, Oct 27, 20 @ 11:44 am:

    I appreciate Congresswoman Bustos and would consider myself supportive of her. I don’t think it’s a “caught her napping” scenario. It’s the make up of the district combined with animosity caused by the pandemic and or the public response to the pandemic, along with her campaign making choices due to the pandemic.

    While I am certain that there are people who are going to defiantly eat and drink in doors at a bar and vote for Republicans before the succumb to COVID-19 just before Thanksgiving, I suspect any vulnerability in Congresswoman Bustos’ campaign is indicative of structural issues with Illinois democratic political campaigns in general which I think are basically:

    1.) Staffing decisions have never really been very meritocratic. In Illinois some staff decisions suffer from literal nepotism.

    2.) Late starts to campaign hiring and staffing, especially waiting for late money or late staff provided by other entities (DCCC, DNC, compelled volunteers.) A better practice for someone like Bustos is the campaign probably should have had a chunk of it’s field staff, field director, and at least one or two RFDs, in 2019 well before the pandemic.

    3.) Over reliance on political structures or “machines” that do not exist in the state that they were in 20 years ago and lack the patronage jobs that fueled them decades ago.

    4.) Over reliance on modeling: This is a new structural issue, but I think it’s been an issue enough election cycles in the state that I think it is structural. Data is fantastic and the extent to which it is available and can be quickly analyzed is pretty cool, but making the wrong decisions on what it means and then not checking your assumptions is a problem.

    Though it’s less of a problem when the political opposition is doing whatever it is the Illinois GOP is doing with their separatist movements and their one trick campaign elephant, Madigan.

    I think Congresswoman Bustos is going to be reelected, though — but I imagine that they’re looking through their target universe of voters and seeing that almost everyone has voted. A week isn’t a lot of time to identify and turn out new voters, but might want to examine the inputs they used to make that target universe to make sure they didn’t miss anything.

    That’s free advice, kids. Expand your targets, start calling, and leave messages.

  28. - Unconventionalwisdom - Tuesday, Oct 27, 20 @ 11:56 am:

    This is my District.

    Overall. it is a somewhat DEM district. It was designed to be so.

    Bustos has pretty much lined up the ‘major’ endorsements- including the Farm Bureau.

    According to, as of 10/14/20 Bustos has more funding $3.2 million to $1.7 million for King.

    Just don’t see how Bustos loses although it will be closer than her previous elections.

  29. - Marty36 - Tuesday, Oct 27, 20 @ 12:12 pm:

    Cheri’s issue is that she hasn’t delivered any real economic development projects to the 17TH District. She’s been promoted, but the voters in her district are left behind. What’s the sense in being elected if it doesn’t benefit your voters?

  30. - west wing - Tuesday, Oct 27, 20 @ 12:15 pm:

    guessing a 55-45 race - Bustos win … King started late with little to no name ID and no real district roots

  31. - Annonin' - Tuesday, Oct 27, 20 @ 12:27 pm:

    Wow secret GovJunk aide….that ought to be enough to tube the carpetbagger. BTW her first ads failed to reveal where she was running some thought Iowa.
    Next interview she can be asked about the deaths at the vets home.

  32. - Nick - Tuesday, Oct 27, 20 @ 1:20 pm:

    This feels a bit like head-hunting on Republicans part.

    There’s probably at least 20 districts which should be closer, where either Republican incumbents need saving, or where there are Democrats in seats Trump won by double digits in 2016.

    But on the off chance they do manage to knock off Bustos, an otherwise bad night at least will have the silver-lining that they beat one of the top-ranking Democrats in the House, and in a WWC seat.

    But really, two Republican internals showing her up by mid-single digits close to election day doesn’t exactly say it’s all that competitive. I would expect her to win by between 5-10 percent in the end.

  33. - Hold Over - Tuesday, Oct 27, 20 @ 3:12 pm:

    Bustos has spent more than any other DCCC chair has ever had to on their home district. If that doesn’t set off the alarm bells, I don’t know what does. She didn’t take her opponent seriously early, and now Betsy is caught holding the bag as Bustos has to pour money ear marked for targets into saving her own seat.

  34. - SaulGoodman - Tuesday, Oct 27, 20 @ 3:29 pm:

    **Betsy is caught holding the bag as Bustos has to pour money ear marked for targets into saving her own seat.**

    There is PLENTY of money to go around this cycle. Betsy has the money she needs.

  35. - Lincoln Lad - Tuesday, Oct 27, 20 @ 3:59 pm:

    For all the dem money in this election cycle, I get asked multiple times a day for more. I guess if it works, keep doing it. LOL

  36. - Nick - Tuesday, Oct 27, 20 @ 4:17 pm:

    Also it isn’t like the DCCC is spending any money in IL-17

  37. - low level - Tuesday, Oct 27, 20 @ 5:17 pm:

    “She’s only authored 3 bills in 8 years - for naming of Post Offices”

    Yes, because in the US House, all the major legislation is sponsored by the Chair of the Committee to which is was referred. Bustos does not chair any House committees. This is quite common for a Congressperson before they chair a committee

  38. - John Lopez - Tuesday, Oct 27, 20 @ 6:13 pm:

    low level,

    Then how has freshman Congresswoman Lauren Underwood had one of her bills signed into law, the portions of 2 others incorporated into Appropriations bills? Bustos has been there 4 terms, and no meaningful bills signed into law?

  39. - Jon A. Zahm - Tuesday, Oct 27, 20 @ 10:03 pm:

    I live in this district and Esther King has run a very strong grassroots campaign. She’s is likable, has a good message, military service, and is the daughter of Christian missionary parents. Bustos is known for photo ops, not real grassroots connections, in the district. This will be a close one.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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