Illinois’ 6th District played a pivotal part in Tuesday’s Democratic takeover of the U.S. House, as first-time candidate Sean Casten unseated Republican incumbent Peter Roskam on what long has been solidly GOP turf.
With 77 percent of precincts reporting, Casten led Roskam by six percentage points, and the Associated Press projected that Casten had prevailed in one of the country’s most closely watched House races.
Roskam, who conceded the race late Monday, had held the seat since 2007. The district covers Chicago western suburbs — including Wheaton, Downers Grove, Glen Ellyn, and part of Naperville — and it historically has been a power base for Republicans, both in Congress and in the state legislature.
Casten, a clean energy businessman, had enjoyed the strong support of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which targeted Roskam’s seat in its effort to win back control of the House.
Despite a bitterly fought campaign, Casten sought to strike a conciliatory tone in his victory speech to hundreds of cheering supporters in an electricians’ union hall in west suburban Warrenville.
“Let’s be clear, a lot of good people didn’t vote for me and that’s OK,” he said. “My job now is to represent everybody.
After telling the crowd the Democrats had overtaken the House of Representatives, Casten said, “This is an election where what won was values.”
Much of the debate in the race centered on President Donald Trump.
Casten said one of the reasons he decided to run is that the president is a “demagogue” who spews hateful rhetoric about immigrants and the LGBTQ community.
Rhetoric was an issue for Casten, too. Roskam criticized the Democrat for comparing Trump to Osama bin Laden and calling Republicans the party of pedophiles.
Roskam said on the campaign trail he has pushed back on some of the president’s negative rhetoric and that he’s taken action when he disagreed with Trump’s policies. Roskam cited his support of Russian sanctions as an example.
But Roskam voted with the president 94 percent of the time.
And Roskam was one of the architects of last year’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. It raised the standard deduction for individuals and lowered the corporate tax rate. Democrats have criticized the law for giving the biggest break to the wealthy.
Casten, a Downers Grove native, also went after Roskam and other Republicans for voting against the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare.” Casten said he supports a multi-payer system and would protect pre-existing conditions.
At Casten’s election night party, supporters described him as a family man who would bring an “evidence-based” approach to legislating — an antidote to what they called the anti-fact rhetoric from Trump.
Allison Longenbaugh of Naperville said she’s been disappointed in Roskam’s failure to be responsive to constituents.
“He doesn’t represent our district, he doesn’t want to talk to us,” Longenbaugh said.
Her friend Lynn Gosselin agreed. Gosselin described a Democratic awakening in the 6th District during Trump’s time in office.
Gosselin said before Trump’s election in 2016, Democrats in the area were “underground” but had been coming “out of the woodwork” in the past two years.
Casten’s campaign raised close to $5.5 million, according to the Federal Election Commission.
Climate change will certainly be one of Casten’s top priorities in Washington since it’s the policy issue he probably knows best. He said he’d make changes to the Clean Air Act.
In his concession speech, Roskam said he told Casten, “This is a great job.”
Roskam also cited Psalm 91, which opens, “Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.”
Editor’s Note: Chicago Public Media receives philanthropic support from the Casten Family Foundation. Sean Casten, who is a candidate for U.S. representative, 6th District, is not a director of the family foundation and does not contributed to it.