NAPERVILLE, Ill. — In 2010, Congressman Randy Hultgren rode a red wave into office. This year, he’s trying to survive a blue one.
Hultgren is battling a well-financed, high-energy challenge from Democrat Lauren Underwood.
"The difference between Lauren Underwood and myself is she’s a progressive, believes in big government," Hultgren said. "I’m a conservative, I believe in limited government."
"Randy Hultgren supports Donald Trump and Paul Ryan’s agenda 96 percent of the time," Underwood said. "And so who’s he working for? It’s not us."
Underwood is a 32-year-old nurse from Naperville who served as an adviser in the Department of Health and Human Services under President Barack Obama.
"I decided to run for Congress after attending Randy Hultgren’s one and only public event of 2017," Underwood said. "And that night he made a promise. He said he was only going to support a version of Obamacare repeal that let people with pre-existing conditions keep their health care coverage."
"I’ve voted 100 percent of the time protecting people with pre-existing conditions that they get coverage," Hultgren said. "She’s wrong and if she read it, she would see what is a guaranteed issue and allowing states waivers."
The waivers Hultgren refers to would have nullified protections for pre-existing conditions. The issue is playing a prominent role in Underwood’s TV commercials.
The candidates are also fighting over taxes and spending. Hultgren backed the GOP tax overhaul.
"I think it has been very good for 90-plus percent of the families in my district [who] are benefiting from the Tax Cuts and Jobs Creation Act," Hultgren said.
"A tax cut that didn’t go to middle class families, didn’t help small business — but went to corporations and the wealthiest one percent of Americans," Underwood said.
"There’s optimism," Hultgren said. "People are starting up businesses, growing businesses."
"We need jobs here in the 14th," Underwood said. "And so I get excited about things like a federal infrastructure bill."
Underwood’s making Hultgren’s accessibility an issue. She says residents can’t find him.
"My opponent was absent for 16 months from April 2017 through August of 2018," Underwood said. "I don’t know how you offer representation to any kind of community if you physically can’t show up and engage and dialogue."
"I’m back here," Hultgren said. "My family’s here. We’re out in the district all the time. We’ve done town halls, school visits. So it’s false. She’s just wrong."
As is the playbook for Illinois Republicans, Hultgren is linking Underwood to Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan.
"My sense is they’re working together on a lot of these policies that again might be good for Chicago, might be good for what he’s trying to do for Springfield, but aren’t good for the people of the 14th District," Hultgren said.
Hultgren is also using advertising dollars to remind voters of his work combating human trafficking.
In addition to health care, Underwood is running on paid family leave, equal pay and affordable child care.
"Three things that would pass in Congress tomorrow if we had congressional leadership that would recognize it as a priority and just call a floor vote," Underwood said.
Illinois’ 14th Congressional District, which covers seven suburban counties, trends Republican. But the contest is considered a toss-up. It’s one of the most closely watched congressional races in the country.
Underwood, a millennial African-American, is one of a number of women running this year. Illinois-14 is a majority white district, but Underwood thinks retail politics will lift her to victory.
"So how do we win?" she said. "We show up. We show up, and we sit in living rooms and talk to people."
Hultgren, knowing what’s at stake if Democrats take Congress, is making this pitch.
"What are the next two years gonna be about?" he said. "Is it going to be about results or is it going to be about resistance?"
Underwood has gained a lot of national attention. Hillary Clinton held a fundraiser for her.
To see more of Tahman Bradley's election stories, visit wgntv.com/decision2018.