As wave of women runs for office, Dems hoping for a boost from Lauren Underwood in Illinois’ 14th District

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With the emerald fairways of the Pinecrest Golf Club in Huntley serving as a serene backdrop through the picture windows behind her, Lauren Underwood held a conversation centered on Social Security issues with a crowd of potential suburban voters.

The group assembled for the wide-ranging policy discussion with the Democratic nurse from Naperville consisted mostly of people 65 and older and primarily women.

A special guest at the recent Wednesday morning event, Jon “Bowzer” Bauman — a former member of the band Sha Na Na, who is now president of a Social Security political action committee — noted the record number of women running for political office this year. The small crowd burst into applause.

“No more old white men!” someone shouted.

Voters sometimes challenge her on policy positions, she said, intimating that her views carry less weight because she isn’t married and doesn’t have children. Men have occasionally tried to physically intimidate her, she said, by standing close to her or hovering over her during interactions at campaign events.

“This is what sexism looks like,” Underwood said she told herself, “this is what it feels like.”

Cathy Johnson, a precinct committeewoman for McHenry County Democrats, said Underwood has injected a new energy into the campaign, something she hopes builds momentum for her candidacy.

“We haven’t always had good candidates who have been impressive, so people have been stuck voting for Republicans,” Johnson said. “People around here used to be afraid of telling people they were Democrats, afraid their signs would be torn down. Now they’re excited.”

The views were decidedly different at a recent GOP fall rally in Geneva, where about 100 people gathered on a hot September afternoon to hear from Gov. Bruce Rauner, attorney general candidate Erika Harold and a panel of regional candidates at the Kane County gathering. Hultgren was on hand, shaking hands and speaking with voters.

As the party faithful munched on hot dogs and chips, the local Republican leaders scoffed at the notion that Democrats such as Underwood are primed for a series of wins across the country, including in their territory.

“Have you heard about the blue wave? You’re going to feel blue as you wave goodbye to your paycheck,” said Bob Grogan, a state central committeeman, as laughter rippled through the right field pavilion at the Kane County Cougars’ ballpark.

Republicans pointed to a robust economy and concerns about taxes, which they said will boost their chances in November.

Stan Bond, a Republican state central committeeman and village trustee in Montgomery, south of Aurora, believes that pocketbook issues are at the forefront of voters’ minds. If people are feeling good about the economy and the jobs situation, Bond said, “then they’re not going to move away from someone for someone else they don’t know.”

Bond said he’s worried about a move toward more socialized medicine, too many taxes and the role that state politics will have on the federal elections.

“I’m not a big fan of the government doing something the private sector can do,” Bond said. Bond said he wants to offer “a helping hand, not a handout” and doesn’t want lawmakers to delay solving today’s financial problems, leaving them for future generations to resolve.

“We have to worry about going into a death spiral because of taxes,” Bond said.

For Elsie Campbell Morrissey of Sandwich, who wore a Hultgren T-shirt to the rally, Underwood is too much of a one-note candidate, ultra-focused on health care at the expense of other issues.

“I’m worried his opponent is about big government health care,” Morrissey said. “There’s more issues out there that affect the people of the 14th District. … Randy is worthy of winning.”

And Republicans need to maintain control of the House, Morrissey said, to avoid potential impeachment proceedings against Trump.

“If we impeach Trump, well, we lose the impact of the Trump economy,” she said. “I think there’s so much more to governing a country than just being hateful, and I don’t think the Democrats understand that. I think they think that if they hate Trump, they are doing something good for the country. And I say, look at what the man is doing despite all the hate.”

Kane County voters, however, turned away Trump during the last election, voting for Clinton by a margin of 10 points. A slice of the 14th District is in eastern DeKalb County, which also voted for Clinton, and northern and western Lake County, another area that backed the Democrat two years ago. Hultgren, however, won more than 60 percent of the vote in DeKalb in 2016 and 56 percent in Lake.

At the golf club event in Huntley, Diane Ayers said she believes the district is slowly changing, turning from reliably red to “lavender.” Ayers has lived in Huntley for more than two decades, and she said there’s a palpable sense of excitement among local Democrats.

“I haven’t seen as much enthusiasm in the last 26 years as I’ve seen in the last year and a half,” Ayers said. “I think Lauren is articulate and very passionate person, and that’s exactly what we need.”

poconnell@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @pmocwriter

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October 5, 2018 at 02:33PM

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