August 15, 2022


King handily wins GOP primary for 17th District, will face Democrat Sorensen on Nov. 8

Rana Smith shows her son Evan, 11, the voting process Tuesday, June 28, 2022 at the mall in Sterling. “It’s very important to come out to vote,” Smith said about the life lesson.

Editor’s note: Because of Sauk Valley Media’s print deadline, the final result’s of Tuesday’s primary will be available at Wednesday and in print in Thursday’s editions.

Republican Esther Joy King and Democrat Eric Sorensen will face off in November in what will be a closely watched race for Illinois’ 17th Congressional District.

AP declared the winner of the GOP primary around 9:30 p.m., and the Democrats’ race around 10:15 p.m., with about two-thirds of the votes counted.

In a statement released on Twitter, King, an East Moline attorney, thanked her supporters and called it “the honor of my lifetime to run to represent the people of this district.

“We have a major fight ahead of us – a fight to ensure that people can fill their gas tanks and grocery carts without dipping into their rent money or retirement savings,” she wrote.

King defeated fellow East Moline resident and insurance broker Charles Helmick Jr.

Sorensen bested five other candidates to win the berth. He, too, thanked supporters.

“From the first day, this campaign has been built on three pillars: trust, science, and communication,” he added on his Facebook page. “Talking with voters across the district, they agree, we need more science and less politics in their next representative.”

Should he also win on Nov. 8, Sorensen, a longtime TV meteorologist before retiring to run for this office, would be the state’s first openly gay Congressional member.

It will be one of the most hotly contested races nationwide, as the GOP pushes to regain a majority in the U.S. House.

The winner will take the seat of outgoing Democratic U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos of East Moline, who announced in April 2021 that she would not seek reelection after her fifth term in office, prompting a small avalanche of nine hopefuls to step up. (One, Democrat Linda McNeely of Rockford, did not survive a challenge to the legitimacy of her petitions.)

Bustos issued this statement:

“Congratulations to Eric Sorensen on his victory tonight. Illinoisans deserve a representative who will fight for working families, help build our local economy and continue to lift up Midwestern voices. Eric will do that.

“This November will be a historic election. Simply put, our freedoms and democracy are on the line. While we were lucky to have a great crop of candidates vying for the Democratic nomination, now is the time to come together and work to help keep this seat blue in November.”

The GOP winner never appeared to be in question.

By 9:30 p.m., King had roundly outpaced Helmick, and by noon Wednesday, with 95% of the votes counted, the tally was 30,749 for King, 14,017 for Helmick, the AP reported. That’s 68.7% to 31.3%.

This will be her second run for the Congressional seat; she was the Republican nominee in 2020, coming in a close second to Bustos, with 48% to 52% of the vote. King announced her intention to run again only an hour after Bustos said she was bowing out. Helmick was a primary candidate that year, but withdrew.

With 95% of the Democratic votes counted, Sorensen garnered 14,450 votes, or 37.9%.

Former state representative Letisa Wallace of Rockford had 8,889 votes, or 23.1%; Rockford Alderman Jonathan Logemann had 5,530, or 14.5%; Rock Island County board member Angie Normoyle had 4,724 votes, ore 12.4%; community activist Marsha Williams of Channahon had 2,633, or 5.9%, and cannabis lobbyist Jacqueline McGowan of Palos Hills had 1,985 votes, or 5.2%, the AP reported.

In Whiteside County, where all 60 precincts were counted by 9:20 p.m. Tuesday, the unofficial numbers were 3,031 for King and 1,001 for Helmick in the GOP race, or 75.2% to 24.8%.

They were 1,247, or 57% for Sorensen, a clear local favorite, 377 for Logemann, or 17.2%; 206 for Normoyle, or 9.4%; 154 for Wallace, or 7.3%, and 104 each, or 4.7%, for Williams and McGowan, the clerk reported.

The newly redrawn 17th District, with a population of more than 700,000, encompasses all or parts of Carroll, Whiteside, Winnebago, Stephenson, Rock Island, Knox, Mercer, Henry, Peoria, Fulton, Tazewell, McDonough and McNeal counties, running from Galena in the north to Astoria in the south.

It is heavily rural, featuring around 10,000 family farms, but also includes the cities of Rockford, Peoria, Moline and Rock Island.

It has leaned Democratic lately, but not always.

Before Bustos, the seat was held briefly, from 2011 to 2013, by Republican Bobby Schilling.

For 24 years before that, though Democrats held the post, first by Lane Evans, from 1983 to 2007, then by his aide, Phil Hare, from 2007 to 2011.

Lane beat a 16-year GOP incumbent Tom Railsback.

President Donald Trump won the district by thin margins in 2016 and 2020, fueling the GOP’s desire to take back the seat.

The House Republican Campaign Committee made it a target in 2020, when Bustos won her 2020 race against King by only 4% of the vote – the tightest race of her tenure – and it has done so again this year.

Bustos, a former journalist, was elected district representative in 2012. She was the first woman elected to the House from the 17th, is the head of the House Agriculture Committee, and is on its Appropriations Committee.

She was chosen to head the House Democratic Campaign Committee, the party’s fundraising arm, for the 2020 elections, when the Democrats managed to maintain control of the House but nonetheless lost 15 seats to Republicans. Five months later, she announced her retirement. Her last day in office will be Jan. 3.

She has not announced plans for her future political career.

She is married to Rock Island County Sheriff Gerry Bustos, who also is not seeking reelection.

Kathleen Schultz

Kathleen A. Schultz

Kathleen Schultz is a Sterling native with 40 years of reporting and editing experience in Arizona, California, Montana and Illinois.