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Democrat Eric Sorensen says working across the aisle will be vital in a closely-divided Congress

Eric Sorensen speaks to supporters at a Get Out the Vote rally with Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker, U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, and other Democrats at the Laborers International Union of North America hall in Peoria on Monday, Nov. 7, 2022.
Tim Shelley
Eric Sorensen speaks to supporters at a Get Out the Vote rally with Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker, U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, and other Democrats at the Laborers International Union of North America hall in Peoria on Monday, Nov. 7, 2022.

While it's currently unclear which party will ultimately control Congress once all the votes are counted, it's apparent the final split will be closely divided.

Democrat Eric Sorensen is the congressman-elect in Illinois' 17th Congressional District.

"We don't know what the balance of of the House of Representatives or the Senate will be. But we will know that in short order," he said. "But in order for us to make the legislation happen that's going to bring about the change, we're going to need to work across the aisle."

The 17th Congressional District is historically a purple congressional district. It's home to both liberal stalwart Lane Evans and Tea Party Republican Bobby Schilling. The district voted for former President Donald Trump in 2016 and 2020, but was redrawn into a bluer shade by Democrats following the 2020 Census.

Sorensen, a former television meteorologist in Rockford and the Quad Cities, defeated Republican Esther Joy King by about three and a half percentage points in the district. Many pundits rated a race a pure toss-up in a political environment believed overwhelmingly favorable to Republicans. But Democrats resisted many of the headwinds a party aligned with the president usually faces in a midterm election.

King, an attorney and Army JAG officer, lost two years ago against retiring Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Moline). King largely dodged culture war issues in her second run for Congress, instead laser-focusing on kitchen-table issues like inflation and fuel prices.

Sorensen talked about climate change and the economy, but also brought abortion access rights to the forefront in his messaging throughout his campaign. The issue proved a successful one for Democrats around the country in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's June decision in Dobbs v. Jackson overturning the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling protecting abortion rights access nationwide.

In the weeks and months following the decision, red states around the country began rolling back abortion access rights.

While that wasn't the case in solidly-blue Illinois, Sorensen still made protecting abortion access a centerpiece of his campaign. King called herself "pro-life," favoring abortion access only in cases of rape, incest, and protecting the mother's life.

The congressman-elect says codifying Roe v. Wade on the federal level still remains a top priority.

"That is essential for us. Because we know, from the extreme parts of the Republican Party, that rights are in jeopardy today," Sorensen said.

Sorensen will be the first openly gay member of the Illinois congressional delegation. He said he reached out to his mom when he first learned the state had never had a LGBTQ+ representative in Congress.

"I said, 'I can't believe this hasn't happened. Why hasn't this happened?' And her answer was quite succinct. She said, 'Eric, because it's supposed to happen in 2022. It's supposed to happen in the year where there isn't representation right now in Florida or in Texas,'" he said.

Sorensen said that's an approach Illinois voters turned their backs upon.

"We've rejected what has happened in Texas and in Iowa and in Florida. And so what I want to be able to do is be the representative for everyone in this district. Because everyone matters," Sorensen said.

Sorensen said voters on the campaign trail bemoaned the divisiveness of today's political climate. He said his role now is to reach out to the people who didn't vote for him and make sure everyone has a seat at the table as he goes to Washington, D.C. to hash out solutions to the district's issues.

For the congressman-elect, that means building up an experienced team ahead of taking office, particularly in the realm of constituent services in the geographically large and diverse district, with wide swaths of conservative-leaning rural areas connecting bluer urban areas like Peoria, the Quad Cities, and Rockford.

"I will serve everyone that's here, but we've got to make sure that that conduit to service connects all people," he said.

Tim is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.