Republicans weigh 2018 Bustos challenge

By Scot Betram 
Illinois News Network

Despite a strong showing by Donald Trump in Illinois’ 17th Congressional District, local Republicans still see defeating Congresswoman Cheri Bustos, D-Moline, as a tough task.

“I see [the 17th] as a potential pick-up opportunity, but it’s going to take a perfect storm,” said Jim Thompson, Winnebago County Republican Party Chairman. “I think we’re going to need to have a candidate who…is able to generate some funds, because we can anticipate that Congresswoman Bustos will have a sizable war chest to defend her position.”

The far northwest Illinois district, which includes parts of Rockford and Winnebago County, is among 12 across the country in which a plurality of voters supported Trump for president, but sent a Democrat to represent them in the U.S. House.

Andrew Chesney, Chairman of the Stephenson County Republican Party, thinks some lessons can be learned from the current president.

“Trump had a way of relating to the 17th District, unlike Hillary Clinton,” Chesney said. “I believe that a conservative could take that message to the district and do quite well. But it’s going to come down to the right candidate, the right timing, and some funding.”

Former Rep. Bobby Schilling represented most of the current district from 2010-2012. He knows how difficult it might be for a Republican to prevail in 2018.

“It’s a tough district to win even though Trump won. He had a lot of those Reagan Democrats come over because he was talking good things about trade deficits and things like that,” Schilling said. “A lot of the people that vote in the 17th, they don’t care if Satan is running on the Democratic side of the ticket. They just go in and punch ‘D, D, D, D, D.’”

Jan Weber, Henry County Republican County Chairman, says conversations are underway with a number of potential candidates, but no one is ready to make it official yet. She acknowledges Bustos has some advantages.

“She’s following the script,” Weber said. “She shows up in all the right places. She knows how to play the game.”

Chesney doesn’t believe there’s an unspoken front-runner for the Republican nomination, but he has a certain type of candidate in mind.

“Running a moderate doesn’t work,” Chesney said. “It didn’t work with Leslie Munger. It didn’t work with Mark Kirk. Running a moderate is a death sentence in this district. I think we have to run on conservative principles and values and make [our] case.”

The Cook Political Report currently lists the 17th District as a “Likely Democratic” seat for the next mid-term election in November, 2018.

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