Why three suburban congressional races have been among the hottest in the state

FILE - The U.S. Capitol in Washington is pictured on Friday, August 5, 2022. Democrats pushed their election-year economic package to Senate passage Sunday, Aug. 7, 2022, a compromise less ambitious than Biden’s original domestic vision but one that still meets party goals of slowing global warming, moderating pharmaceutical costs and taxing immense corporations. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib, File)

Three suburban showdowns have been among Illinois’ most hotly contested congressional races ahead of Tuesday’s election.

In the 6th District, 11th District and 14th District, Republican challengers are trying to unseat Democratic incumbents. The races have been costly, with most of the campaigns raising and spending millions to share their messages with voters through TV ads and other means.

The three races also have been fairly messy, with the candidates – or their teams and supporters – trying to discredit their rivals in interviews, speeches, news releases and social media posts.

6th District

Crime, the economy and abortion have been issues in political races across the country this cycle, and they have been discussed by both candidates in the 6th District. But the state’s controversial SAFE-T Act has been a focal point for Republican Keith Pekau.

Pekau, who also is Orland Park’s mayor, has vehemently criticized elements of the 2021 law, particularly the provision that will eliminate cash bail for criminal defendants starting Jan. 1. He’s spoken against it during village board meetings and in interviews with national media outlets.

Two-term Democratic incumbent Sean Casten of Downers Grove hasn’t responded to Pekau’s complaints about the SAFE-T Act. His campaign team has noted it’s a state issue, not federal.

However, Casten blasted Pekau for publicly criticizing a planned drag bingo event for teens at the Downers Grove Public Library. After the gathering was canceled because of threats against the library and its staff, Casten said Pekau and members of a group called Awake Illinois that also opposed the event “should be ashamed of themselves” for creating an unsafe environment.

Through mid-October, Casten had raised more than $5 million and spent almost $4.9 million. Team Pekau had raised about $1.3 million and spent about $1.2 million.

The 6th District includes parts of Cook and DuPage counties.

11th District

Woodstock Republican Catalina Lauf is challenging Naperville Democrat Bill Foster for the 11th District seat he’s held since 2013.

Lauf, who unsuccessfully ran in the 14th District in 2020, has touted her Latin American heritage, her role as a U.S. Commerce Department adviser during President Donald Trump’s administration, and her appreciation for U.S. military veterans during the campaign.

An adviser for a children’s nutrition company, Lauf has pushed an America-first foreign policy philosophy, opposed abortion rights and promoted gun rights. She’s also railed against what her website calls “the hypersexualization of our youth” in schools.

That latter stance drew quite a bit of attention last month when Lauf tweeted that some schools provide litter boxes for students who like pretending they’re anthropomorphic animals – a claim repeatedly debunked as a hoax. When asked to share proof of such activity, Lauf provided none.

Foster, who takes pride in his status as the only physicist with a Ph.D. degree in Congress, has opposed Lauf’s stance on abortion, saying women should have the legal right to end a pregnancy. Foster also believes the private ownership and sale of military-style weapons should be outlawed.

Through mid-October, Foster’s campaign had raised about $3.4 million and spent almost $4 million. Lauf had raised about $2.4 million and spent about $2.3 million.

The 11th District encompasses parts of Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry, Will, DeKalb and Boone counties.

14th District

Democratic U.S. Rep. Lauren Underwood of Naperville is seeking a third term representing the 14th District, while Republican Scott Gryder of Oswego – the chairman of the Kendall County Board – is vying to unseat her.

The candidates are on opposite sides of many issues, including the immigration debate. While Underwood wants the U.S. to create a pathway to citizenship for immigrants who have been living here illegally, Gryder calls for a stronger border with Mexico and supports finishing a wall there.

They’re miles apart on gun control, too. While Underwood said she supports what she calls “commonsense” legislative solutions such as universal background checks and red flag laws that would allow authorities to temporarily take away a potentially dangerous person’s firearms, Gryder said existing laws need to be enforced better rather than creating new ones.

Underwood has criticized Trump for refusing to admit he lost the 2020 election and for orchestrating an effort to overturn the results. She said Trump acted criminally by doing nothing to prevent the deadly Capitol attack.

Gryder balked at holding Trump responsible for the siege, saying he’s “focused on this election.”

Through mid-October, Underwood’s campaign had raked in about $6.5 million and spent about $5.1 million. Gryder’s fundraising and spending each still were well shy of $1 million.

The 14th District encompasses parts of Kane, Will, DeKalb, Kendall, La Salle, Bureau and Putnam counties.

Other races

Every seat in the U.S. House is up for election Tuesday, including Illinois’ 17th District. Five others include parts of the north, northwest or west suburbs.

In the 3rd District, Democrat Delia Ramirez of Chicago and Republican Justin Burau of Winfield are running for an open seat.

In the 5th District, incumbent Democrat Mike Quigley of Chicago is being challenged by Republican Tommy Hanson, also of Chicago.

In the 8th District, incumbent Democrat Raja Krishnamoorthi of Schaumburg is being challenged by Republican Chris Dargis of Palatine.

In the 9th District, incumbent Democrat Jan Schakowsky of Evanston is being challenged by Republican Max Rice of Chicago.

In the 10th District, incumbent Democrat Brad Schneider of Highland Park is being challenged by Republican Joe Severino of Lake Forest.