Updated at 12:17 a.m. March 18
Dairy magnate and Illinois state Sen. Jim Oberweis has been trying to win a job on Capitol Hill for nearly two decades. He has mounted multiple failed campaigns for U.S. Senate and House seats.
Now, Oberweis is poised to get another shot at finally going to Washington.
With 100% of the precincts reporting, Oberweis led with 26% of the vote in the seven-way Republican race in the 14th Illinois Congressional District.
His closest rival, state Sen. Sue Rezin, had 23%, trailing Oberweis by less than 1,000 votes. But she said in a statement Tuesday evening that she had called Oberweis to concede the contest and congratulate him.
“Jim worked hard and deserves our support in November,” she said.
Assuming his lead holds, Oberweis would face first-term Democratic U.S. Rep. Lauren Underwood.
Underwood has stockpiled nearly $2 million in her campaign account to try to hold on to the traditionally Republican seat representing Chicago’s far western and northern suburbs.
Republicans have targeted the district ever since Underwood knocked former Republican Rep. Randy Hultgren out of office in the Democratic “blue wave” of 2018. President Donald Trump won the district in 2016.
Oberweis, who is from Sugar Grove, entered the race with high name recognition given his milk and ice cream business, his previous runs for public office and his willingness to advertise his campaign using money from his own personal fortune. But his opponents pointed to his past unsuccessful runs as proof he’s “unelectable.”
Oberweis won election to a state Senate seat in 2012, but lost in three bids for U.S. senator, one run for Illinois governor and two campaigns for the congressional seat in the 14th District — a seat that was held for 20 years by Dennis Hastert, once one of the country’s most powerful Republicans.
Rezin, meanwhile, lived outside the borders of the district, in Morris. That required her to try to sway GOP primary voters who weren’t familiar with her Springfield record.
Catalina Lauf emphasized her youth compared to the rest of the primary field, trying to paint herself as a conservative alternative to U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Lauf gained some national exposure in several appearances on Fox News channel.
Investor Ted Gradel ran his first campaign for office by trying to lightheartedly highlight his college football career as a kicker for Notre Dame, though Oberweis repeatedly attacked Gradel for his ties to a Florida stem cell clinic that was sued by patients alleging they suffered vision loss after receiving treatment there.
Former Kendall County GOP Chairman Jim Marter, music school owner Jerry Evans, and Anthony Catella failed to get their campaigns off the ground in terms of organization or fundraising.
Lauf was third with 21%, followed by Gradel (13%), Marter (11%), Evans (5%), and Catella (2%).
Tony Arnold covers state government and politics for WBEZ. Follow him on Twitter at @tonyjarnold.