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Illinois 6th Congressional District election could be midterm bellwether

Illinois 6th Congressional District election could be midterm bellwether
Illinois 6th Congressional District election could be midterm bellwether 03:02

CHICAGO (CBS) – On election night, insiders say to watch the Illinois 6th Congressional District.

If incumbent Democratic U.S. Rep. Sean Casten loses, it could be a sign of what's to come the rest of the night.

Some political heavy hitters, not usually seen in the traditionally heavily Democratic Chicago area, are heading to the area in the campaign's final days. CBS 2's Chris Tye took a closer look at the newly drawn Illinois 6th.

Early voting is underway in Illinois for races across the city. And if what's being seen around the country is showing up at Illinois polling places, there is a trendline moving in a very Republican direction.

"The tightening of the sixth is reflective of a more national trend than anything probably in the district itself," said Pat Brady, the former chair of the Illinois Republican Party.

Brady said the district itself has changed meaningfully.

Until this election, the district looked different. Prior to this election cycle, it included a huge chunk of more progressive north and northwest suburbs.

Starting in this cycle, the district is made up largely of the west and southwest suburbs with a more conservative lean.

Among the suburban communities no longer in the 6th District are Palatine, Arlington Heights, and Saint Charles.

The new communities in the district include Orland Park, Oak Lawn and Palos Heights.

Casten's challenger is Orland Park Mayor Keith Pekau.

But the incumbent congressman is a new name to 75% of voters in the newly drawn district, most of whom are in the southern suburbs.

"Down south, it's always been Republican," said Northwestern University political science professor Jaime Dominguez. "They're going to vote basically, on what everybody's voting on now: inflation, the price of gas, milk, etc. And reproductive rights is now second."

Dominguez said there's no public polling in the race to see where things stand.

"It's a case study basically in these newly created districts where they are competitive," he said. "Where you have sizable Democratic and Republican registered voters."

There's also a sizable gap between money raised. As of Oct. 19, Casten's raised $5 million, compared to Pekau's $1.2 million.

In a rare move, President Joe Biden and Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy will be spending some of the final hours before Election Day in the heavily Democratic Chicago area. It's evidence of how critical the newly-drawn 6th District is to both sides.

"If Illinois 6th goes Republican, the Republicans nationally will pick up 50 seats, which would be a whitewash for the Democrats," Brady said.

Brady added that Biden coming to the Chicago area in the final days is rare. But in many parts of the country, his presence is considered more of a liability than an asset.

The real political firepower would be Barack Obama, who is not stumping here. Instead, Obama is traveling to states like Arizona and Wisconsin.

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