Local Democrats were given a message of hope and cautious optimism Saturday afternoon during an event in Oswego, where Sen. Dick Durbin endorsed Lauren Underwood, a Naperville nurse who is running for Congress against U.S. Rep. Randy Hultgren, R-Plano, in the Nov. 6 election.
Durbin spoke to a crowd outside the Hunt Club subdivision clubhouse Saturday afternoon and endorsed Underwood, who handily beat her fellow Democrats in the spring primary election. Durbin also held a town hall meeting earlier in the day at Waubonsee Community College in Sugar Grove.
During the event, the message given by party leaders was clear: Victory is possible, but not without hard work.
“If we do not continue this energy and continue to knock on doors, and to be involved, and to talk about why we love Lauren and why Lauren is the best candidate for our district, we could lose,” said Julie Gondar, the Kendall County Democratic Party chairwoman. “I don’t want to bum anybody out, but we have to be involved, and we have to be on the ground.”
Gondar said the local party planned to canvass, where volunteers and candidates knock on doors, immediately after the event.
Kristina Zahorik, Illinois Democratic Party State Central Committee member for the 14th Congressional District, had a similar message.
“After today, after right now, you go march yourself in there and you get a packet, and if you can’t knock on a door, then you make a phone call; if you can’t make a phone call, then you sit and write a check, but you do something every single day between now and Nov. 6; otherwise, Lauren doesn’t win,” Zahorik said.
Durbin said he likes to host town halls and other events in areas with a strong Republican presence.
“It’s a pretty good experience,” he said. “They don’t agree with you on everything, but that’s what we call democracy.”
Durbin’s advice to those suffering from cable news burnout was turn off the TV and get to work campaigning for candidates.
“What I’m saying to them is turn off the TV for goodness sake,” he said. “We have 101 days before an election. Give up TV for 101 days. Take that energy, that stress, that commitment and turn it into something real. We have real candidates who can make a difference.”
Underwood said she was an intern in Washington in 2006, when Durbin and then-Sen. Barack Obama hosted monthly coffee meetings for constituents, and noted that Durbin was in the 14th District on Saturday hosting a town hall. She contrasted that with Hultgren, who she said “will not show up” for his constituents and has not hosted in-person town hall meetings.
“We know there’s so much value in showing up and engaging, and in listening,” Underwood said.
Underwood has made health care her No. 1 issue of the campaign, noting that she has a heart condition and has been an advocate for the Affordable Care Act. She ripped Hultgren for voting in 2017 for the American Health Care Act, which was designed to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
“I was really upset, and I decided to do something about it, and I said, ‘It’s on, and I’m running for Congress,’ and you all have had my back,” she said. “I’m so grateful.”
After the event, Durbin addressed what he thought could be a key to victory for his party in a district such as the 14th, which traditionally has been a Republican “lock” in congressional elections, with the recent exception of Bill Foster in 2008.
“It’s a change in demographics, which means new population coming in, so you can’t assume anything,” Durbin said. “Secondly, this is a decisive year. The level of interest in voting, particularly on the Democratic side, is high, because people want to make sure that there is some check on this president in Washington. And those who are voting consistently with the president and have not broken with him on some fundamental issues really have an important challenge ahead of them.
“And I think the third thing is, we’ve got a candidate.”