Randy Hultgren’s big win on Tuesday put a blush on his cheeks, a sparkle in his eye and a spring in his step.
The conservative Republican state senator from Winfield defeated incumbent Democratic U.S. Rep. Bill Foster, D-Batavia, putting a red stamp back on the 14th Congressional District for the GOP.
“First, it’s great excitement,” Hultgren, 44, said between post-election media interviews. “I’m really honored to be chosen by the 14th District to be their representative. I’m pleased with the strong voter turnout across the district. We received support across the political spectrum – strong Republican and independents and traditional Democrats who voted for us most. It was very encouraging.”
When Hultgren is sworn in on Jan. 5, he will be the 17th Republican to hold the district since its creation in 1873. Foster was only the fourth Democrat to hold the seat, following the resignation of former speaker Dennis Hastert after a record 20-year reign.
But the real work, as the new congressman-elect says, already has begun.
“I’ve been going throughout the district, meeting with people and putting plans together to hit the ground running,” Hultgren said. “We hope to have an immediate impact on shrinking size of federal government. And to make sure not to raise taxes – this is absolutely the worst time to raise taxes – and take positive steps to get jobs growing again.”
Hultgren acknowledged that critics have called Republicans “the party of no” because of stalwart opposition to every program or initiative President Barack Obama supports.
“I just disagree with ‘the party of no,’ ” Hultgren said. “I will work with anybody who will help me help my constituents. We are going to have to work together if we are going to get anything done. I think that is the message that was sent.”
Hultgren said he was heartened by Obama’s post-election promise to compromise with Republicans to get things done. But Hultgren could not say what he would compromise on until he heard all the discussions on each issue.
“You allow full hearings on items that are presented by Democrats or Republicans,” Hultgren said. “If has merit, it is allowed to have a hearing. That is what is changing in the current Congress. Republicans were offering hundreds of proposals on healthcare, but they were refused a hearing. That has got to change.”
Change was Obama’s byword in the 2008 election. Mark Guethle, chairman of the Kane County Democratic Central Committee, said change is the only thing that is constant in politics. Guethle is not happy about losing the 14th District to the red team, but he takes it with a grain of political salt.
“One thing I’ve learned in politics, nothing is ever permanent,” Guethle said. “The 14th District? We’ll see what happens with remapping and redistricting. It’s possible the 14th will be redistricted in favor of Democrats. It’s currently in favor of Republicans. It’s possible the whole landscape can change.”
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Hultgren’s win is part of a general drubbing the Democrats took in the mid-term elections, said Matt Streb, a political scientist at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb.
“Go back to when Bill Foster won the district – it was under a unique set of circumstances,” Streb said. “It was a strong year for Democrats with Obama at the top of the ticket. He also had a divisive Republican primary with a Republican candidate many could not ultimately support – [Jim] Oberweis. The electoral conditions were the perfect storm for Bill Foster in 2008.”
Fast forward to 2010 and Hultgren and Foster were running head to head in an environment that had become toxic for Democrats, especially incumbent Democrats.
“It was a difficult environment for him to run in – and Democrats nationally,” Streb said. “Bill Foster was an incumbent who did not have the the advantages of being an incumbent, only the disadvantages.”
Foster was not in office long enough to build up supporters and an electoral base that other incumbents do, usually over a longer period of time. Mix that with a district that still leans Republican and a quality Republican challenger in Hultgren to come up against Foster.
Streb noted Hultgren’s strong conservative pedigree, but said as a house freshman, he is expected to vote the way the party leadership tells him.
“It will be interesting to see what happens when he goes to Washington,” Streb said. “Of the five Congressional freshmen to go to Washington, Hultgren has the most legislative experience from his time in the [Illinois] House and Senate. I think that makes him a particularly interesting congressperson to watch.”
The other interesting thing to watch is how redistricting could affect Hultgren’s chances to run for another term.
“We don’t know what the political context will be, whether it will be a good year for Democrats or Republicans,” Streb said. “When you’re a freshman, you’re somewhat electorally vulnerable.”
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State Sen. Chris Lauzen R-Aurora, is taking some pride in Hultgren’s victory.
“It was our volunteers who got him past Hastert Junior,” Lauzen said, referring to the primary between Hultgren and Ethan Hastert, son of the former speaker.
“I think Randy’s votes are going to more closely match the values of the district,” Lauzen said. “A lot of folks appreciate Bill Foster’s work ethic and intellect, but [Hultgren] will reflect the values a little more closely.”
But for all the victories Republicans made Tuesday, Lauzen cautioned that winning an election is just a first step.
“This is just an invitation to go to work,” Lauzen said. “They should not think of it as the end of something. This is just the beginning of something.”
Lauzen said Hultgren and the other GOP winners will have to repeal the healthcare bill and replace it, extend the Bush-era tax cuts and rein in government spending.
“They don’t have to pass it into law, they just have to pass it out of the House because that is what they have control over,” Lauzen said. “Promises are broken if they do not get it out of the House.”
Though he said he is not declaring his intent to run in 2012, Hultgren said he would like to represent the district for a few years. His promise and platform closely matches what Lauzen laid out as the task for House Republicans.
“And I will be holding town hall meetings, holding listening tours, listening to constituents and hearing their frustrations and suggestions,” Hultgren said. “That is so important if we are going to represent and be their voice in Washington D.C.”