Roskam’s fate depends on Trump’s popularity
ANALYSIS & OPINION BY RUSS STEWART
In political jargon, GA-6 may be a harbinger for IL-6. That means the outcome of the June 20 special election in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District could foreshadow the 2018 outcome in Illinois’ 6th Congressional District, which is currently represented by Republican Peter Roskam.
Both congressional districts, Georgia’s located in Atlanta’s western suburbs, and Illinois’ located in Chicago’s western suburbs, are amazingly similar, both demographically and politically. And the "Trump Factor," meaning the president’s popularity, now and in November 2018, will be determinative.
Both districts were gerrymandered in 2011 to elect a Republican congressman, with Illinois’ Democratic legislature packing every DuPage County Republican into the 6th District so as to elect Democrats in adjacent districts, and Georgia’s Republican legislature stripping every possible minority voter out of the 6th District, so as to insure a Republican hold. The Atlanta area has the fastest-growing black population in the country.
Nevertheless, the perception that anti-Trump sentiment is growing, if accurate, would jeopardize both Republican-held seats.
The president’s job approval hovers around 40 to 43 percent, according to recent national polls, and the trickle-down effect of that unpopularity, especially in urban areas, could be devastating for Republicans. Trump won the presidency with 46 percent, to Hillary Clinton’s 48.1 percent, and polling shows most of the Trump base satisfied thus far. But a shift of 5 to 10 percent in any competitive congressional district, meaning that up to 5 percent of hardcore Republican of 2016 non-Republican but pro-Trump voters don’t vote, coupled with a solid turnout of 2016 pro-Clinton voters and newly-energized anti-Trump voters, adding 5 percent to the Democratic base, puts any Republican congressman who won by 55 percent of less at risk. Roskam won by 59 percent in 2016.
An anti-Trump "wave" could easily cost Republicans dozens of seats in 2018, erasing their current 238-193 House majority, and bringing back Nancy Pelosi as speaker.
GA-6 could be the Republicans’ first casualty, although a Republican won recent special congressional elections in Kansas and Montana after the incumbent resigned to join the Trump administration. The Georgia candidates are Democrat Jon Ossoff, a 30-year old former congressional staffer who moved into the district to run, and Republican Karen Handel, a former Georgia secretary of state who has run statewide five times, is well-known, and is a political moderate. The Georgia Republican political establishment, which controls the state, has coalesced its money and manpower behind Handel.
The establishment doesn’t want to be embarrassed by losing the seat, particularly since U.S. Senator David Perdue was an early Trump backer, former governor Sonny Perdue is U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, and the seat’s prior occupant, Tom Price, is U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services. Price, an orthopedic surgeon who was chairman of the House Budget committee, was popular in his district, winning with 62 percent in 2016.
But the GA-6 contest is about Trump, not about Georgia’s clout in the Trump Administration, or the maintenance thereof. Ossoff’s message is succinct: Send me to Washington and I’ll vote against Trump. In the April primary, with 18 candidates, Ossoff got 48 percent, to Handel’s 19.8 percent. But the total vote for the numerous Republican candidates came close to 50 percent, and Handel is the strongest possible Republican nominee. Trump recently highlighted a recent Atlanta fundraiser for her, so she is not ducking the president or his policies. Recent polling shows the race dead even, and both parties are flooding the district with money; about $6 million will be spent for television ads in the pricey Atlanta media market — with Handel attacking Ossoff as an outsider and opportunist, and Ossoff attacking Trump. It’s a classic example of "nationalizing" versus "localizing."
If Democrats succeed in nationalizing the 2018 elections, making it referendum on Trump and not on the local Republican congressman, a lot of incumbents will fall. We’ll know the trend after June 20.
Roskam, like Price, is no political slouch, and is a high-ranking member of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, which enables him to raise plenty of campaign money. In 2016, Roskam, age 55, spent $3,357,095, winning 208,555-143,591, or 59.2 percent, over Democrat Amanda Howland. He is a mainstream Republican, eschews social and Tea Party issues, was a state legislator for 12 years, and is part of the DuPage County Republican establishment, which still dominates.
Both IL-6 and GA-6 are quite upscale: Georgia’s is 64 percent white, 24 percent black and Hispanic, with a median income of $76,308, ranking 39th of 435 congressional districts. Illinois’ is 79 percent white, 16 percent black and Hispanic, with a median income of $86,683, ranking 13th in the country. In the 2016 IL-6 primary, 54,228 voted Democratic and 87,353 Republican. Yet Clinton won both districts in 2016, signaling a built-in anti-Trump majority.
Clinton won GA-6, which was a significant turnaround from 2012, when the Romney-Obama vote was 186,998-114,796, a margin of 72,202 votes; in 2008, Obama lost 182,881-114,796, so 2016 appears to be an anomaly, more of an anti-Trump than an anti-Republican vote. Price won by 139,018-71,486, or 66 percent, in 2014 and by 201,088-124,917, or 62 percent, in 2016. GA-6, which includes the Cobb and Fulton county suburbs, on June 20 will give a snapshot as to whether the anti-Trump bloc has grown, and whether all the current anti-Trump fervor of the Left is translating into votes. Almost $30 million has been spent thus far.
If Handel loses, Washington Republicans will be in a panic mode.
Clinton won IL-6, which was also a major turnaround from 2012, when the Romney-Obama vote was 179,607-151,760, a margin of 27,847 votes. In 2008, Obama won 178,574-165,814, which was largely an anti-Bush vote. 2012 was a return to normalcy, so one can conclude that 2016 was an anti-Trump vote. Roskam was first elected to Henry Hyde’s open seat in 2006 over Tammy Duckworth with 51 percent; he won 160,276-78,465, or 67 percent, in 2014, and got 48,000 more votes in 2016. He had 59, 64, and 58 percent, respectively, in 2012, 2010, and 2008. In 2016, Roskam’s vote of 208,555 was more than his 147,906 and 193,138, respectively, in the presidential years of 2008 and 2012.
The threshold for a "marginal" seat, meaning one which is chronically competitive and susceptible to an anti-presidential "wave," is an incumbent vote of under 55 percent, with a declining percentage over two elections. That’s not Roskam. He appears to be well-liked, well-known and well-entrenched – not to mention well-funded. In the 2014 cycle, he spent $4,079,870; in the 2016 cycle, he spent $3,357,095. His 2016 Democratic foe, Howland, spent $104,678. She is running again in 2018.
Also contemplating a run are Suzyn Price and Kelly Mazeski, none well-known. In DuPage County, Bernie Sanders beat Clinton in the 2016 primary 64,846-58,853, or 52.3 percent, which indicates a substantial left-wing ideological base among Democrats. In a crowded primary containing only women, whoever is the most virulently anti-Trump and most leftist will win.
Roskam has three advantages. First, the 2011 Madigan remap packed the district with Republicans. The 6th, once solely in DuPage County, now contains about 40 percent of the county, and was moved into eastern Kane County (South Elgin, St. Charles), southeast McHenry County (Cary, Crystal Lake), southwest Lake County (Lake Zurich, Wauconda, Lake Barrington), and a piece of northwest Cook County (Barrington, Inverness, Rolling Meadows, Palatine, Arlington Heights), which were excised from the 10th District.
Democratic re-mappers cannibalized and diluted DuPage County, putting (1) the east end (Elmhurst, Oak Brook and Hinsdale) into Mike Quigley’s (D) Chicago-based 5th District, which covers the Northwest Side and extends to the Lake and Lincoln Park; (2) the increasingly liberal south end (Naperville, Woodridge, Darien, Burr Ridge) into Bill Foster’s (D) 11th District, which stretches from Aurora to Joliet; and (3) the Hispanic northeast (Bensenville, Addison, Itasca, Wood Dale) plus working-class white areas (Bartlett, Bloomingdale, Glendale Heights, Carol Stream) into the 8th District, which was won by Duckworth in 2012, and is now held by Raja Krishnamoorthi (D).
By stripping out all minorities and Democrats, Roskam was left with a swath of DuPage County stretching from southeast central to northwest, including Hinsdale through Glen Ellyn and Wheaton to West Chicago and up to Bartlett — the most Republican parts of the county.
Second, the Republican Machine is still in control, and has an efficient ground (precinct) game, which the Democrats do not have. Plus, Roskam has been on the ballot 12 times since 1992, and has his own precinct and fund-raising network. And third, Roskam will have the $6 million it takes to run television ads in the pricey Chicago media market, which contains 12 congressional districts. The eventual Democratic nominee will have to rely on Washington sources for money.
Roskam’s perceived vulnerability stems from his party-line votes: He backed the reform/repeal of the Affordable Care Act, and throughout his career has never been a dissenter. In the past, he has supported the Keystone pipeline, immigration restrictions, an abortion ban after 20 weeks, NSA phone data collection, and continued Guantanamo Bay detentions. During the Obama Administration, he supported the president’s position on ten percent of the votes. There’s plenty to attack.
A 2018 "wave," which means the aforementioned voter shift of 5-10 percent, is possible. But even with a win in GA-6, Democrats’ hopes of taking IL-6 are still wishful thinking.
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