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King's Chances Look Better in IL-17, But Bustos Still Favored To Win

Esther Joy King (L) and Cheri Bustos (R)
Tim Shelley / Peoria Public Radio
Esther Joy King (L) and Cheri Bustos (R)

A national political analyst says Republican Esther Joy King could give U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos a closer-than-expected race in the 17th Congressional District.

Dave Wasserman, the Cook Political Report's U.S. House editor, is now rating the race "lean Democrat," rather than "likely Democrat."

"To be clear, we still see Cheri Bustos as the clear favorite for re-election. But this is in all likelihood going to be a narrower margin than she's seen in the past several cycles," said Wasserman.

The historically blue-tinted 17th Congressional District voted for Barack Obama in 2012, but swung to vote for Donald Trump in 2016. It covers parts of Peoria, Pekin, and East Peoria. The sprawling district stretches to Galesburg, the Quad Cities, and Rockford.

"Cheri Bustos represents a district that Donald Trump won, but her focus on listening to the people she serves and showing up in communities in every corner of her district are why she continues to win," said Bustos campaign manager Tom Bryant. "She always takes her races seriously, and that's why she's prepared all cycle long. We're confident in our strategy heading into November."

King hailed the ratings shift on Thursday.

"Seeing the shift that The Cook Political Report made in my race was validation of the success that we have been having. We have been fighting for change tirelessly since November of 2019. For those of us on the ground, this was a long time coming," said King in a statement released by her campaign. "There is a true sentiment in the 17th Congressional District for someone new, who shares voters ideals and values. I embody what the people need and want in this district, and it is encouraging that those outside of the district are seeing the shift as well."

A King-commissioned poll conducted by the Tarrance Group of 418 17th District voters Oct. 10-12 put Bustos at 49% and King at 44%, with 7% saying they were still undecided. Seventy percent of th0se polled recognized King's name.

The King campaign and pollster declined to release the full polling data, or provide additional information about the results on the record.

Wasserman said Bustos became chairwoman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in part because she proved she can pull off Democratic victories in more conservative districts through her own success, but said that role also opens her up to attacks linking her closely to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Republican Bobby Schilling defeated incumbent Democrat Phil Hare for the 17th District in 2010, but Bustos beat Schilling two years later after the district's boundaries were redrawn following the 2010 census. Wasserman said the next round of redistricting could position King for a rematch if she loses this round.

"King could be setting herself up for a future year, a better political environment for Republicans," said Wasserman. "It's also been difficult for Bustos to attack her challenger because she is a 34-year-old female veteran."

Meanwhile, the Cook Political Report now rates the closely-watched 13th Congressional District race as a toss-up.

The race previously leaned in favor of Republican incumbent Rodney Davis. He defeated Democrat Betsy Dirksen Londrigan by a percentage point in 2018, but Wasserman said Davis is up against the worst political environment of his career, with recent polling showing Joe Biden pulling ahead of President Trump in that district.

"Davis may need to convince some voters to cross over from the top of the ticket, and support him, to remain in office," Wasserman said.

The sprawling 13th Congressional District stretches through Bloomington-Normal, Champaign-Urbana, and Springfield down to the Metro East suburbs of St. Louis.

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Tim Shelley is the Assignment Editor and Digital Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.