Illinois Democrats deploy campaign cash to defend downstate turf against Republican challengers

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The 2022 midterm election features a number of downstate races where Democrats enjoy sizeable leads in campaign cash in districts gerrymandered to their advantage.

EAST ST. LOUIS, Illinois — Republican candidates angling to oust downstate Democrats face a number of strategic disadvantages down the stretch, but still hope national political winds from a Biden backlash can sweep them to power in the statehouse. 

“The way our economy is right now, people are ready for a change,” Republican Jennifer Korte said at a Republican campaign event in Edwardsville.

Korte, who is a stay-at-home mom, highlighted the impact of inflation and argued against the temporary tax relief Democrats offered voters in the form of a gas tax freeze and a grocery tax suspension. 

She dismissed them as election year gimmicks designed to curry favor with voters.

“I would have voted for long term tax relief, to abolish the grocery and gas taxes,” Korte said, though she later backtracked and said she meant only to revisit the decision to tie incremental gas tax hikes to inflation, not to abolish it outright. 

Korte would not say if she would’ve voted for the 2019 capital infrastructure bill that doubled the state’s motor fuel tax, tied it to inflation, and used those higher revenues to fund badly needed road repairs and infrastructure upgrades. 

“That’s something I’ll look at when I get to Springfield,” she said. “I can’t make that decision right now.”

Jennifer Korte (R) vs. Rep. Katie Stuart (D)

Korte’s campaign coffers contain $139,933.34 in cash on hand after she reported raising $271,827.57 to win a seat in Illinois’ 112th House District. 

However, her campaign accounts pale in comparison to incumbent Illinois State Representative Katie Stuart’s, which has $1,998,958.89 in cash on hand after raising $2,060,553.80.

The bulk of Stuart’s money came from the House Democratic political committees, which funneled resources to her district to ward off GOP attacks. 

The significant cash influx could be seen as a measure of Democratic uneasiness in a region where voters have trended toward Republicans in recent years. 

It also gives Stuart vast resources to buy ads that define herself as sensitive to inflation and her challenger as extreme on abortion. 

Stuart’s campaign purchased a spate of advertisements that feature Korte’s prior posts on social media about rape victims who seek abortion procedures.

Korte said Illinois laws should “protect women,” and the state’s progressive abortion laws “are likely not going to be repealed,” downplaying the chances that Republicans would win enough seats to enact an anti-abortion agenda.

“Jennifer Korte could have told ‘Illinois Right to Life’ that our laws won’t change, but instead she told them that she would oppose the right to choose even in cases of rape and incest, with no consideration for the life of the mother,” Stuart responded. 

“Jennifer Korte could have told her Facebook followers that the law should support women, but instead she put in writing for the world to see that she would deny rape survivors the right to choose, because in her mind ‘they might regret it,'” Stuart said. “Her desperate attempt to lie away the plain fact of her extreme record would be laughable if she weren’t such a threat to women’s basic medical privacy.”

“I am pro-life,” Korte reiterated when she was asked to clarify her stance on abortion. “We have all of the laws in place in Illinois for abortion.” 

“You can get abortion in our state the day of delivery,” she said. 

Democrats have pushed back against such claims, arguing that no women carry their pregnancies to full term just so they can abort it, and such rare procedures only occur that late in the process when something goes terribly wrong with the pregnancy. 

Illinois law allows late term abortion procedures under limited circumstances when the mother’s life is at risk. 

“I’m absolutely not taking issue with that,” Korte said. “I used to work on OB at Barnes Jewish Hospital. I’m very well aware of how all of that works. If the mother’s life is at risk, obviously the baby’s life will be at risk as well.”

Then, she abruptly ended the interview and walked away. 

Downstate disillusionment

Democrats may have outraised them in campaign cash and wielded their supermajorities to outmaneuver them in drawing new gerrymandered district lines, but Republican candidates feel the regional momentum is on their side. 

In the peak of campaign season, many voters tune out political ads, especially in a corner of the state where voters hold cynical views of government. 

“I tune in as much as I need to know who’s for us and who’s getting stuff done,” Zach Chike said at a campaign rally for Democrats in East Saint Louis.

Chike said he and his neighbors have grown weary of empty promises of progress over the years. 

“Being from East St. Louis, when you hear about change for decades, you start getting tired and you stop believing,” he said. “But now there’s opportunity to actually just move and start seeing that change. So, I think we want to see change.” 

He said he looks for lawmakers who prioritize small businesses, community investment, and public works programs that improve infrastructure projects. 

Doug Dial, who is a Glen Carbon native, said he remembers when the Metro East was a reliable Democratic stronghold, bolstered by blue collar workers and rank-and-file labor union members. Now, as a member of the gig economy, he said he sees less economic stability in the future and has started volunteering for Republican campaigns. 

“A lot of my friends work for unions,” Dial said. “These union workers are seeing their own families, some who don’t work for unions, suffer because of housing, homeowners’ insurance, and taxes and everything like that. It just needs to stop.”

He also said his allegiance did not belong to Republicans because of partisan ideals alone, but rather because he preferred to register his displeasure against the direction of the state under Democratic control.

“The supermajority is not doing good for the citizens of Illinois,” Dial said. “They’re doing it for their own power.”

Wavey Lester (R) vs. Sen. Chris Belt (D)

State Senator Christopher Belt (D-Swansea) met with voters at a well-renowned small business and promoted the impact of the tax relief Monday morning. 

“Giving consumers, giving constituents a little more in their pockets, it goes a long way,” he said at Billie’s Pastries Shop. “Those are real issues.”

Belt and Representative LaToya Greenwood, the House Majority Conference chairperson, represent the southernmost districts in either Democratic caucus. Republicans control every House and Senate district from the southern borders of their districts down to Cairo. 

In the upcoming midterms, Belt, Greenwood, and Assistant House Majority Leader Jay Hoffman built up some of the largest leads in political donations to defend their turf. The trio of downstate Democrats raised a combined $5.1 million in campaign cash so far this cycle, far outpacing their Republican opponents’ $165,334 in reported contributions. 

“It’s an uphill battle a little bit,” Rep. Wavey Lester said outside a fast-food restaurant in Fairview Heights. “In East St. Louis, they’ve never seen a Black Republican.”

Lester, a Millstadt businessman, said he has so far struggled to win financial backing from Republican party officials. But without political handlers, he spoke more freely about his agenda. 

“I would support any legislation that bans second and third-trimester abortions,” he said, drawing a line far more restrictive than the viability standards in Roe v. Wade. 

The candid confession drew a sharp distinction between Lester and the incumbent Democrat facing his first bid for re-election. 

“I just don’t think government has the right to tell a woman what she should do with her body,” Belt said. 

Lester leaned on regional resentment about an imbalance of political power, referring to Belt as a “party puppet.”

“Most of the things that we have to deal with down here comes as a direct result of what’s coming out of Chicago,” Lester said.

Lester said he will cut taxes if voters elect him. But he asked which ones and by how much?

“First and foremost…property taxes,” he said, though he quickly acknowledged local governments set property tax rates, not state legislators. 

What policies would he support in the state legislature that would lower property taxes?

“That’s something that obviously I will have to look into,” he said. 

Region: Metro East,Politics,City: St. Louis, MO

via KSDK – Politics https://www.ksdk.com/

October 17, 2022 at 09:41PM

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