In a hastily arranged event ahead of the Tuesday midterm vote, President Joe Biden on Saturday threw a spotlight on Rep. Lauren Underwood, D-Ill., — in Joliet, new political turf for her — as he touted his administration’s record on bringing down drug costs and protecting Medicare and Social Security, messages mirroring major themes from Underwood’s campaign.
“Folks, I came to Illinois to talk about two programs that reflect who we are as Americans, and Lauren understands [this] to her core, to her core — Social Security and Medicare,” Biden said.
Biden spoke in the gym at Jones Elementary School in a semi-rural part of Will County, where fields with crops near the school have already been plowed or picked.
Referring to protesters outside the school, Biden, talking about Social Security and Medicare said: “I love those signs when I came in — ‘socialism.’ Give me a break. What idiots.”
Though this was an official event, the political appeals were clear, with House Republicans only needing a net gain of five seats to switch control of the chamber — which is why flipping even one Democratic seat in Illinois could have a major national impact.
“We are in the fight for our lives, for the future of our country,” Underwood said. “No matter your political party, Medicare and Social Security belong to all of us.”
Biden arrived in Chicago on Friday and departed after his Joliet speech — apologizing for not working the rope line — because he had to dash to Pennsylvania to join ex-President Barack Obama at a rally to turn out voters for Democratic nominees John Fetterman for Senate and Josh Shapiro for governor.
Biden’s team put together the last-minute trip to blue state Illinois to bolster three Democratic House incumbents from the Chicago suburbs: Underwood and Reps. Sean Casten and Bill Foster.
In the closing days of the election, the biggest battle for a Chicago-area House seat is turning out to be the 6th district fight between Casten and his Republican rival, Keith Pekau, the Orland Park mayor.
Biden headlined a fundraiser for Casten, Underwood and Foster Friday night at the Loew’s Chicago Hotel in Rosemont, the hotel where Biden overnighted.
Underwood, from Naperville, is seeking a third term in a district that is about 70% new to her, the result of Democratic mapmakers in Springfield jettisoning the toughest portions of her current 14th district in order to make her 2022 re-election easier. She won a second term in 2020 with a mere 50.67% of the vote.
She faces Republican Scott Gryder of Oswego, the president of the Kendall County Board and chairman of the county’s Republican Party. He is also the president and a senior counsel at the Near North Title Group.
Biden won the new 14th by 10 points in 2020, but the political climate in 2022 is not the same, and an expected red wave in blue state Illinois gives Underwood a tougher race than the mapmakers envisioned.
Biden’s blue state travels while Obama’s been dispatched to the swing states drew this comment Saturday from Republican National Committee spokesperson Emma Vaughn:
”Democrats are in despair as Joe Biden sinks Democrats’ midterm hopes. Add Illinois to the list of states now up for grabs because of Joe Biden and Illinois Democrats’ reckless agenda of soaring prices, higher taxes, and out-of-control crime.”
Suzanne Stegeman, 61, from Aurora — the portion of the city in Underwood’s new district — is the executive director of the Kendall County Food Pantry, and one of several hundred people in the gym.
Asked about the impact of Biden’s visit on Underwood’s bid — and the state of the contest with Gryder — Stegeman noted all the new territory in Underwood’s district and the fact that Gryder is well known in Kendall County.
As for Biden coming to Illinois — he’s hitting eight states in eight days — Stegeman said, “I think that it shows how important the race is… Obviously, he’s only got so much time, right? And if he is coming here, he is coming here because this is important, just a few days before the election.”
Lynn Sweet is the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.