• Ben Szalinski
    MAR 19, 2024


    Primary preview: Voters to decide fate of congressional incumbents, Cook County district Supreme Court seat, numerous General Assembly seats  

    A Chicago voter participates in the 2022 primary. [Don Vincent/The Daily Line] 

    Two candidates have already clinched their party’s nomination for president of the United States. But Illinois voters will decide winners in several key primaries that will determine the vision they want representing their districts in Congress, Springfield and the Illinois Supreme Court.  

    Incumbent members of Congress fighting to keep their seats 

    U.S. Reps. Danny Davis, Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, and Mike Bost are all fighting for their political careers on Tuesday as they try to fend off challengers who argue the three incumbents aren’t representing their party or district well.   

    In Illinois’ 7th Congressional District on the South and West Sides of Chicago, Davis is attempting to fend off numerous Democratic opponents, most notably Chicago Treasurer Melissa Conyears-Ervin. Davis, 82, has been in Congress since 1997. But much of the race has also revolved around Conyears-Ervin and her ethics challenges, which she has refused to answer questions about. Other challengers such as activist Kina Collins have struggled to get a footing in the race. Davis will go into Tuesday’s primary with endorsements from many of Illinois’ top Democrats.   

    In Illinois’ 4th Congressional District on the Southwest Side of Chicago and suburban areas of DuPage County, Garcia is trying to keep his political momentum alive as he faces a primary challenge from Chicago Ald. Raymond Lopez (15). Garcia posted lower fundraising numbers at the end of 2023 than most other incumbent members of Congress, but Lopez has also struggled to gain a footing in the race with even lower fundraising numbers. Garcia mounted an unsuccessful mayoral campaign last year while Lopez dropped out of the race before the first round of voting. Lopez is challenging Garcia from a more conservative platform, especially as Garcia sides with some of the nation’s most progressive lawmakers in supporting a ceasefire in Gaza.   

    In Illinois’ 12th Congressional District south of Interstate 70, Bost is trying to hold off the popular Darren Bailey, who is hoping to ride his ultraconservative platform that won over Illinois Republicans in 2022 to a seat in Congress. The key issue in the race with both candidates largely holding the same political position was which candidate former President Donald Trump would support. Trump has decided to stick with Bost, citing Bost’s governing experience. Bailey has tried to frame Bost, who chairs a U.S. House committee, as an ineffective lawmaker. But Bailey struggled mightily to raise money in the race which has made it difficult for him to compete with Bost’s advertising.   

    Illinois Supreme Court seat  

    Incumbent Justice Joy Cunningham of Chicago is facing Cook County Appellate Court Judge Jesse Reyes in the Democratic primary for one of three Cook County seats on the Illinois Supreme Court. Cunningham is up for reelection after being appointed in 2022 to replace retired Chief Justice Anne Burke  

    The key issue in the primary has come down to ethnicity. Illinois has never had a Latino Supreme Court justice and Reyes has argued his campaign is crucial to giving Latinos a voice on the bench.  

    “I think when you look at the growing population in our state, I think you have to kind of look at, ‘OK, we want to make sure we’re reflective of the population’ and I think that’s key,” Reyes told The Daily Line.    

    Related: Cunningham, Reyes match up experience in fight over Supreme Court seat  

    But Cunningham pointed out it’s not possible to have a seven-member court that represents every ethnic background. Instead, focusing on issues of judicial philosophy and leadership style are more relevant.   

    “Our focus really should be on experience and credentials,” Cunningham told The Daily Line.    

    Legislative races  

    Sen. Natalie Toro (D-Chicago) is trying to hold on to her seat in a crowded primary field. Toro was appointed to the Seante in July, angering progressives in the 20th Senate District on Chicago’s Northwest Side. Gabriella Guzman, a Chicago Teachers Union organizer, was passed over for the appointment and has since mounted an aggressive campaign. Dave Nayak, a wealthy farmer and doctor, has put hundreds of thousands of dollars into the race while Geary Yonker has struggled to raise money. All four candidates have argued they are the most progressive candidate in the race.   

    Toro’s fundraising support has mostly come from Senate President Don Harmon (D-Oak Park). Toro has reported $1.9 million of fundraising of contributions or assistance of $1,000 or more, including $1.5 million related to Harmon, since Jan. 1. Guzman has reported $525,200, including $277,800 related to the Chicago Teachers Union. Nayak has raised $675,000, with all of it coming from himself. Yonker reported no contributions over $1,000.   

    Rep. Mary Flowers (D-Chicago) is approaching her 40th year as a member of the House. But Speaker Chris Welch (D-Hillside), wants her out of her seat in the 31st House District on Chicago’s South Side. Welch initially made Flowers a top member of his leadership team this term, but after accusations of bullying and a comment Flowers made that a staffer resembled Adolf Hitler, Welch barred her from caucus meetings. Welch is now backing Mike Crawford, who is dean of The Chicago School. Crawford has reported $1.2 million of reportable contributions since Jan. 1 thanks to support from labor unions and Welch’s leadership team in the House, while Flowers has reported just $6,000.   

    Two members of the Illinois Freedom Caucus are facing tough primaries financially supported by Illinois teachers unions. The primary challengers also say the caucus’ approach to governing is ineffective and despite their conservative credentials, the Freedom Caucus is failing to deliver for their districts. In the 110th House District Republican primary, Rep. Blaine Wilhour (R-Beecher City) has reported $99,600 since Jan. 1 as he fights against correctional officer Matt Hall, who has reported raising $209,300, including $100,800 related to the Illinois Education Association and Illinois Federation of Teachers.   

    Rep. Adam Niemerg (R-Dieterich) is running a write-in campaign in the 102nd House District Republican primary after getting kicked off the ballot for not properly notarizing his nomination papers. That opened the door to a primary from Jim Acklin, a superintendent and mayor in rural Champaign County. Like Hall, Acklin’s campaign is backed by teachers unions. Acklin has reported $122,000 of contributions, including $103,500 related to teachers unions. Niemerg has reported $94,800.  

    The Freedom Caucus itself isn’t involved, but some of their members are involved in trying to unseat Rep. Dave Severin (R-Benton) in the 116th House District Republican primary. Caucus members have supported Angela Evans, who is mounting a right-wing challenge to Severin.   

    Sen. Terri Bryant (R-Murphysboro) is known for being a strong conservative but typically pragmatic lawmaker. However, Bryant is facing a primary challenge from Wesley Kash, who is running his campaign with help from family money. Kash has reported $251,000 of loans from his family. Bryant has reported raising $208,600.   

    Rick Ryan, an attorney, is running in the 36th House District Democratic primary with support from retiring incumbent Rep. Kelly Burke (D-Evergreen Park). But Ryan has faced questions about his past anti-abortion positions and is running against Sonia Anne Khalil, who has support from the Arab American community and has attacked Ryan over abortion. Ryan has reported raising $619,900 compared to Khalil’s $354,600.  

    Regan Deering of Decatur is trying her hand at the Illinois House after losing a race for Congress in 2022. She’s hoping to succeed retiring Rep. Dan Caulkins (R-Decatur) in the 88th House District Republican primary but must first defeat McLean County Board member Chuck Erickson. Erickson has the support of the moderate wing of Illinois Republicans while Deering appears poised to join the Freedom Caucus if she’s victorious. Deering has raised $35,100 since Jan. 1 compared to Erickson’s $3,800.   

    The 76th House District is wide open for both parties after Rep. Lance Yednock (D-Ottawa) announced his retirement. Democrats are running three viable candidates who have all been within close margins of each other on fundraising: DeKalb Mayor Cohen Barnes, Yednock’s Chief of Staff Amy ‘Murri’ Briel, and DeKalb Ald. Carolyn Zasada. Heidi Henry from Marseilles is also running.   

    On the Republican side, Liz Bishop appears set to win the nomination over Crystal Loughran. The 76th House District has demanded moderacy from Yednock during his tenure and the two winners of the primary will likely faceoff in a competitive November contest.   

    Sen. Tom Bennett’s (R-Gibson City) decision to give up his seat in the 53rd Senate District has opened an opportunity for new Republican leadership in Central Illinois. Chris Balkema, the Grundy County Board chair, and Pontiac High School teacher Jesse Faber have fought a competitive race mixing support from agriculture groups in support of Faber with business groups and incumbent Republican senators backing Balkema. Also in the race are Livingston County Board member Mike Kirkton and Bennett’s chief of staff, Susan Wynn Bence of Watseka.  

    Sen. Win Stoller’s (R-Germantown Hills) decision to retire as a senator in the 37th Senate District near Peoria has also opened an opportunity for a new Republican leader in a rural district. Henry County Board member Tim Yager, former Dixon Mayor Li Arellano, and Dixon Ald. Chris Bishop are all competing for the nomination. Yager has put up the best fundraising numbers with loans to his campaign, but Arellano’s numbers reflect more support from other Republican leaders.    

    Former Quincy Mayor Kyle Moore appears likely to secure the nomination to replace retiring Rep. Randy Frese (R-Paloma) in the 99th House District. Moore raised $29,300 in the last three months of 2023 to end the year with $22,745 in his campaign account. Since Jan. 1, he’s reported another $2,000 of reportable contributions, including $1,000 from U.S. Rep. Darin LaHood. Moore’s opponent, Cass County Board member Eric Snellgrove of Beardstown, has not created a fundraising campaign.  


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