Democrat Rep. Sean Casten, Republican Jeanne Ives at odds over COVID-19 response in Illinois 6 Congress race

Democrat Rep. Sean Casten, Republican Jeanne Ives at odds over COVID-19 response in Illinois 6 Congress race

Democratic Rep. Sean Casten, Republican challenger Jeanne Ives at the WGN-TV 6th Congressional District debate. | WGN-TV screenshot/ Casten—Ives debate

In the Casten/Ives battle, outside groups are not spending millions in independent expenditures to win this seat, a contrast to 2018, when third parties were major players.

WASHINGTON — The role of government in managing the COVID-19 pandemic is a defining issue in the congressional battle between freshman Democratic Rep. Sean Casten and Republican challenger Jeanne Ives.

Casten said in a WGN-TV debate that Ives “celebrates ignorance” when it comes to the science of dealing with coronavirus infections.

Ives said politicians like Casten “don’t trust you to make decisions” when it comes to whether there should be mandates to wear masks or rules about eating in restaurants. “You are treating adults like children,” she said.

The twin health and economic crises speak to Casten and Ives — very differently.

Casten’s political brand is built on his background in science with climate change his central issue.

Ives’ reputation as a fierce social and anti-tax fiscal conservative was solidified when the three-term state representative took on her own party establishment in her nearly successful 2018 GOP primary bid against then-Gov. Bruce Rauner.

Running to Rauner’s right, she jumped in the 2018 race after Rauner signed a measure expanding public funding of abortion in Illinois. She won 48.47% of the vote to his 51.53%, demonstrating the punch of Illinois GOP conservatives even though Rauner mustered enough GOP moderates and swing voters to get the nomination.

The 6th Congressional District hugs the outer Chicago suburbs and includes parts of Cook, DuPage, Kane and McHenry counties.

Here’s the Illinois 6 story so far:

More background: In 2018, political newcomer Casten beat six-term GOP Rep. Peter Roskam by seven points.

Casten, 49, a Downers Grove resident who ran an energy business, benefited from Democrats moving into and politically transforming the once solid GOP suburban turf. He rode on the enormous blue wave President Donald Trump unleashed with his 2016 election — in a district Hillary Clinton won.

The Casten pick-up helped flip control of the House to Democrats.

Casten is on two committees: Financial Services and the Science, Space, and Technology panel. Because he came from a competitive district — when the newly empowered Democratic leadership created the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis — Casten got a seat on it.

Casten accused Roskam of not meeting with constituents, a flank he did not leave exposed. He notes on his government website he’s attended 272 events in the district.

He did make a mistake Ives is exploiting. When Casten bought a condo in Washington, he took a homestead deduction on local property taxes intended only for a primary residence. His spokesman said the deduction was an error and the extra money owed paid.

Ives, 56, lives in Wheaton. Her first elected office was to the Wheaton City Council.

Most mornings, Ives, a West Point graduate with three sons in the military — whose husband was in her West Point class — kicks off the day by posting a Facebook campaign video, often to the wake-up call of a bugle playing reveille.

Ives supports Trump’s reelection. And in this Democratic-tilting district, Trump is a problem for Ives.

The COVID-19 campaign: On Saturday, Ives posted a video in front of Ki’s, a restaurant in Glendale Heights defying Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s new indoor dining ban, imposed in the wake of rising infections in DuPage. Ives said businesses following health guidelines should not be subject to “arbitrary” rules. Most area deaths came from “long-term care facilities,” not restaurants, she said.

Earlier, ex-Illinois Republican Party Chair Pat Brady endorsed Casten, saying in an ad, “Ives makes Trump look reasonable.”

Mirroring a division among deadlocked Democrats and Republicans in Congress, Casten and Ives are at odds over whether a new COVID-19 stimulus bill should include assistance to state and local governments. Casten is for; Ives against, joining Illinois Republicans and Trump — who oppose what they see as a bailout to Democratic-led governments.

Campaign cash: Casten and Ives each raised about $1.1 million in the last quarter. Casten throughout the cycle has bested Ives in fundraising, taking in, according to the latest Federal Election Commission report, $5.3 million compared to $2.9 million for Ives.

Libertarian Party nominee Bill Redpath of West Dundee raised a total of $9,405 for his bid.

No major outside group plays: Outside groups are not spending giant sums in 2020, a contrast to 2018, when third parties poured millions of dollars into independent expenditures to either support or defeat Roskam or Casten. The GOP-allied Congressional Leadership Fund, which spent about $2 million in 2018 to oppose Casten, is staying out of the Illinois 6 contest, spending its cash in more winnable races.

Predictions: The Cook Political Report rates this race as “solid Democratic.” The University of Virginia Center for Politics on Oct. 1. changed the rating for Illinois 6 from “likely Democratic” to “Safe Democratic.”

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