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U.S. Rep. Lauren Underwood says Democratic presidential contenders don’t help — but could hurt — her reelection bid

Chicago Tribune logo Chicago Tribune 2/24/2020 By Rick Pearson, Chicago Tribune
a person standing in front of a laptop: U.S. Rep. Lauren Underwood, D-Ill., watches as a video plays during her speech at a City Club of Chicago luncheon at Maggiano's Banquets in Chicago, on Feb. 24, 2020. © Terrence Antonio James / Chicago Tribune/Chicago Tribune/TNS U.S. Rep. Lauren Underwood, D-Ill., watches as a video plays during her speech at a City Club of Chicago luncheon at Maggiano's Banquets in Chicago, on Feb. 24, 2020.

Freshman Democratic Rep. Lauren Underwood said Monday that she thinks the influence of the party’s presidential contenders on her chances for reelection in the traditionally Republican 14th Congressional District would be “neutral at best or really difficult at worst.”

Appearing before about 150 people at the City Club of Chicago, Underwood was asked if she shared concerns among some Democratic moderates that Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders could hurt down-ballot Democrats who won in 2018 or are in swing districts, should he win the nomination.

“Some people are neutral and some people are not and no one in my opinion that’s running on the Democratic ticket is helpful to me in my race,” Underwood replied, drawing murmurs from the crowd.

Underwood defeated three-term GOP Rep. Randy Hultgren in 2018 in an exurban district that has long backed conservative Republicans. She noted that she defeated Hultgren by 5 percentage points while J.B. Pritzker lost to Bruce Rauner in the district by 8 percentage points — though Pritzker defeated Rauner statewide by 16 percentage points.

a man wearing glasses: U.S. Rep. Lauren Underwood, D-Ill., who is running for reelection in the 14th District, meets with attendees after speaking at a City Club of Chicago luncheon at Maggiano's Banquets on Feb. 24, 2020. © Terrence Antonio James / Chicago Tribune/Chicago Tribune/TNS U.S. Rep. Lauren Underwood, D-Ill., who is running for reelection in the 14th District, meets with attendees after speaking at a City Club of Chicago luncheon at Maggiano's Banquets on Feb. 24, 2020.

“We have had many people run statewide in our state and do very well across the state that do not win in the 14th District,” she said. “And so for that reason, I view presidential candidates as neutral at best or really difficult at worst.”

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Seven Republicans are competing in the March 17 primary to take on Underwood in a traditionally high-turnout presidential election year.

But Underwood, of Naperville, said she has sought to keep her reelection campaign from being tied to the presidential contest.

“We’re not running a presidential race. My election as their member of Congress has very much to do with the local issues that we talk about in our community,” she said after her speech. “What I do is not framed in the context of President (Donald) Trump or the presidential election — period. You very rarely hear me talk about President Trump and that’s not what this is about.”

Moreover, Underwood, 33, indicated that the Democratic Party label isn’t a major part of her campaign due to the nature of the district and what had been its traditional Republican leanings.

“We just know that in our community, this whole idea of the Democratic brand is not what’s attracting people,” she said. “And so, whether it’s a generic Democratic presidential candidate or a named individual, they’re not going to be helpful for me.”

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