The only collar county where the majority voted Republican in the 2020 presidential election was McHenry and that’s where Democratic President Joe Biden is headed Wednesday on his first official visit to Illinois since his inauguration.
“It doesn’t surprise me at all he would go to McHenry County,” said Democratic state Sen. Melinda Bush of Grayslake. “This is about Joe Biden getting out there talking about his vision for what’s important and talking to the American people.”
But at the same time, McHenry County is a shrewd location to pick with the midterm elections nearing, said political scientist Ken Redfield.
“It makes perfect good sense to be there talking about infrastructure, and bipartisan sorts of things that are good for swing voters within those areas,” said Redfield, emeritus professor of political studies at the University of Illinois at Springfield. “It’s politically strategic.”
Biden garnered 47.7% of the vote in 2020 in McHenry and former President Donald Trump received 50.2%.
Biden is scheduled to speak at McHenry County College in Crystal Lake and possibly indulge his taste for ice cream at a local haunt, one memo circulated among state Democrats suggested.
The president will discuss his American Families Plan, which includes checks of up to $300 for eligible families starting this month, and will be selling a bipartisan $973 billion deal on infrastructure.
“I’m excited about his coming, I know he wanted to go to one of the collar counties to visit suburban communities so I’m glad that he’ll do that,” Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Tuesday at an event in Downers Grove.
Assuming the infrastructure plan squeaks through Congress, it will dovetail with Illinois’ six-year capital plan passed in 2019, Pritzker said.
“When the federal infrastructure bill passes, it means we’ll be shovel-ready with our matching funds,” Pritzker said.
Republican state Sen. Craig Wilcox of McHenry is attending the event. “It certainly is momentous when a president comes to visit a part of the country that hasn’t seen that type of a visit before,” said Wilcox, a retired colonel in the Air Force. “For McHenry County, for Crystal Lake, for MCC, it’s a great honor to have any president come.”
Wilcox said he anticipated Biden would be talking about upcoming legislation, adding, “I look forward to being there and hearing what he has to say. I’m going to be prepared on the topics and formulate some questions.”
The trip also will showcase Democratic U.S. Reps. Lauren Underwood of Naperville and Sean Casten of Downers Grove, who represent McHenry County. Both faced high-profile opponents in the 2020 election and that’s likely to recur in 2022.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki touted Underwood during a briefing Tuesday that included details about Biden’s trip.
“Congresswoman Underwood, many of you may know, is a registered nurse, health policy expert, and committed advocate for expanding access to high quality affordable health care,” Psaki said.
Biden is expected to chat with Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot at O’Hare International Airport after Air Force One touches down, the Chicago Sun Times reports, but a presidential appearance in heavily Democratic Chicago “doesn’t give same kind of impact” as showing the suburbs some love, Redfield said. “The goal is to shore up support within suburban voters.”
Political veteran and former Democratic state Sen. Bill Morris thinks Jill Biden might have played a role in the trip’s focus.
“The president’s wife is a community college professor, so he has a special place in his heart for community colleges,” Morris noted. “Also, it will be the community colleges who lead the way in training many of the individuals who will find work under his massive infrastructure program.”
Biden couldn’t have picked a better place to talk about the American Families Act, Bush said. “It’s really looking at how we bring American families along and leveling the playing field for the middle class.”