By: Caitlin Brown
While the highly-anticipated “blue wave” failed to manifest throughout the nation, Illinois saw a significant surge in democrat victories, with many veteran republicans upseated. The state is composed of 18 congressional districts, of which, democrats are now set to represent a total of thirteen.
Likely the most historic victory of the night belonged to Lauren Underwood, a political rookie and Naperville native who defeated Republican Representative Randy Hultgren with 51.9% of the votes. Underwood’s victory is significant for many important reasons; chief among them is her role as the first female and first minority representative in the 14th district. Furthermore, Underwood’s success can also be analyzed through the relative political experience of the two candidates. Hultgren was a four-term, veteran congressman in a traditionally republican district and received the public endorsement of the president leading up to election day. On Tuesday, Trump issued a tweet imploring Illinoisans to vote for the Hultgren. As demonstrated in the Texas and Florida gubernatorial races, presidential endorsement and rallying of the republican base did appear to work in the favor of the candidates.
In stark contrast to this embodiment of traditional politics, Underwood started on the campaign trail as an intriguing but ultimately dismissable political rival, given her lack of previous experience. While Underwood had served as an Appointee in the Administration of President Obama, politics was not formerly her day job; she is a 32-year-old registered nurse that has never previously held any elected office.
After news of her election broke, Underwood released this message to her supporters via twitter: “I’m honored to be your next representative for #IL14–and your first Congresswoman, ever. This victory belongs to you.”
In her acceptance speech, Underwood paid special homage to Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, the first African-American woman elected to congress. Underwood celebrated her monumental victory 50 years and a day after Chisholm’s own election.
Underwood mainly focused her campaign on issues related to healthcare–a well-planned move given her experience serving as a special assistant to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Despite the difficulties that democratic candidates usually face in rural and suburban districts, Underwood was able to win voters through her promise to improve the Affordable Care Act while ensuring that Illinoisans remain covered. As she has noted in interviews, it was Hultgren’s own broken promise to protect those with pre-existing conditions, including Underwood, that drove her to challenge the incumbent. Underwood has promised her constituents that she will not make this same mistake. Liker her own personal hero, Underwood’s victory this election has already proven her to be a leader that inspires voters and challenges adversity.
Beyond Illinois, Underwood’s election to congress exemplifies the nationwide movement toward younger, unconventional, unestablished political underdogs who are increasingly diversifying the traditional political scene.