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GOP comes up short in effort to oust DCCC head Cheri Bustos

Trump carried her district in 2016, but the Democrat had previously coasted against underfunded challengers

DCCC Chairwoman Cheri Bustos narrowly defeated Republican Esther Joy King in Illinois’ 17th District.
DCCC Chairwoman Cheri Bustos narrowly defeated Republican Esther Joy King in Illinois’ 17th District. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Illinois Rep. Cheri Bustos, the chairwoman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee who pitched herself as a Democrat who could win in Republican territory, won a fifth term after after a nail-biting challenge from Republican Esther Joy King.

At one point after 250,000 votes had been counted, roughly 100 votes separated the two candidates. In the end, Bustos received 52 percent of the vote to Republican King’s 48 percent. Bustos declared victory early Wednesday morning but The Associated Press called her race at about 10:15 a.m. Eastern on Thursday.

“Together, we have fought to protect and expand access to health care, rebuild our economy, strengthen our infrastructure and make our part of Illinois better for hardworking families,” Bustos said in a statement Wednesday. “Thanks to your support, we will continue that fight for our communities, for our state and for our nation.”

The tight race was in sharp contrast to 2018, when Bustos won by 24 points — a larger margin than any other Democrat in a district that had backed President Donald Trump in 2016. But her opponent that year raised just $27,000 by mid-October, compared with Bustos’ $3.7 million. 

In 2016, Bustos outperformed Hillary Clinton by about 14 points in her district, but also ran against another underfunded Republican who had only raised about $12,000 at the same point in the cycle.

Bustos raised $3.9 million this year through Oct. 14, but faced stiffer financial competition from King, who hauled in nearly $1.7 million. Outside groups weighed in as well, pouring some $1.8 million into the race, with nearly $760,000 on King’s behalf. 

Bustos, a former reporter and health care public relations president, beat Washington Reps. Denny Heck and Suzan DelBene to win the DCCC chairperson position. She was just the second woman to lead the committee, after New York Rep. Nita M. Lowey served as chairwoman for the 2002 cycle.

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