5 key congressional races to watch on March 17

Despite concerns over the coronavirus pandemic, three of the four states scheduled to hold presidential primaries this Tuesday, March 17, will go ahead as planned (Ohio will not). In Illinois, the Democratic presidential race won’t be the only one on the ballot.

In addition to its presidential primary, Illinois also has a slate of congressional primaries on tap for this Tuesday. Of particular interest: a pair of progressive primary challenges to longtime Democratic House members, and three Republican primaries — two House, one Senate — to challenge Democratic lawmakers come November.

The Republican House primaries — in the Sixth and 14th districts — could also have major implications for who controls the chamber when a new Congress is sworn in in January. Two of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s frontline members — first-term Reps. Sean Casten and Lauren Underwood — will be playing defense there.

In addition to races in the Sixth and 14th districts, Vox is focusing on Illinois’s First and Third congressional districts, as well as the GOP Senate primary to challenge Minority Whip Dick Durbin. Here are five races to watch on Tuesday night; Vox will be covering the results live, thanks to our friends at Decision Desk.

Illinois’s First and Third District Democratic primaries

Rep. Bobby Rush, who’s been in Congress since 1993 and once defeated a primary challenge from none other than future President Barack Obama (in 2000), will have three challengers to contend with on Tuesday. Organizer Robert Emmons Jr., law student Sarah Gad, and activist Ameena Nuur Matthews are on the ballot with Rush; Emmons even won an endorsement from the Chicago Tribune in February.

But Rush, 73, likely isn’t going anywhere. One former Obama pollster, Ron Lester, told the New York Times in 2007 that “taking on Bobby Rush among black voters is like running into a buzz saw.” Nonetheless, it’s a race to watch, particularly as young voters and candidates take on a larger role in the Democratic Party.

In Illinois’s Third District, the 2020 Democratic primary is shaping up to be a rematch of the 2018 race. Rep. Dan Lipinski, a conservative Blue Dog Democrat who is prominently one of the few anti-abortion members in the party, will again face Justice Democrats-endorsed challenger Marie Newman. Newman, who is an anti-bullying activist, made it a close race in 2018: She came within 2.5 points of unseating Lipinski.

This time around, Newman is spending heavily against the incumbent and has strong backing from the progressive wing of the party. She even has the support of Chicago-area Rep. Jan Schakowsky, a member of House Democratic leadership; Lipinski’s opposition to abortion rights has earned him few friends among the party.

Whoever wins the primary will become the odds-on favorite to win the seat in November — the Third District is a deep blue seat.

Illinois’s Sixth and 14th District Republican primaries — plus a Senate challenge

Victories in the suburbs powered the Democratic wave in the 2018 midterms, and Rep. Sean Casten was one of the candidates who made a difference. The freshman Democrat flipped a longtime GOP seat by defeating incumbent Rep. Peter Roskam in Illinois’s Sixth Congressional District. Now, two Republicans are vying for the chance to take back the seat in November: former state Rep. Jeanne Ives, who previously launched an unsuccessful primary challenge against incumbent Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, and surgeon Gordon “Jay” Kinzler.

Whoever wins Tuesday’s race will face Casten in the general election, and seats like the Third District could make the difference in the struggle for control of the House.

It’s a similar story in the 14th District: Like Casten, incumbent first-term Rep. Lauren Underwood is one of the DCCC’s frontline members heading into 2020, and there are seven candidates in the running for the Republican nomination to face her.

The seven candidates on the ballot are Army veteran Anthony Catella, music teacher Jerry Evans, businessman Ted Gradel, former Trump appointee Catalina Lauf, consultant Jim Marter, and Illinois state Sens. Jim Oberweis and Sue Rezin.

As for the state’s US Senate seat, the Cook Political Report rates Durbin’s seat as Solid Democratic heading into 2020. But there are still five Republicans running for the chance to challenge him in November.

Computer scientist Casey Chlebek, attorney Mark Curran, Navy veteran Peggy Hubbard, and doctors Robert Marshall and Tom Tarter are all on the ballot. Durbin will face whichever candidate wins on Thursday in the general election, and is likely to win reelection comfortably.

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