WASHINGTON — Former GOP Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti kicked off her bid to unseat freshman Rep. Sean Casten, D-Ill., on Monday, accusing him in a Sun-Times interview of “palling around” with “the very, very socialist far left, like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.”
Sanguinetti used the name of the high profile lightning rod New York Democratic freshman who is a self-described Democratic socialist to portray Casten as to the left of the 6th Congressional District.
The lefty charge showed that Sanguinetti is interested in making the 2020 contest a referendum on “AOC,” the leader of the far left faction in the Democratic tent, as much as about Casten. Accusing Democrats of being socialists — and invoking “AOC” — is taking a page from the Republican and Trump re-election playbook.
Casten is not politically aligned with “AOC.” Casten is a member of the New Democrats congressional caucus, a group of political centrists. He did not join the Progressive Caucus.
He is not part of the “AOC” group of like-minded pals nicknamed the “squad.”
Sanguinetti, the first Hispanic lieutenant governor in Illinois and the daughter of immigrants, is seeking a political comeback after Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker crushed former GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner in the November election, dashing their bids for a second term.
The 6th Congressional District hugs the Chicago suburbs and includes parts of Cook, DuPage, Kane, McHenry and Lake counties.
It is considered a swing district.
While Illinois voters rejected Rauner and Sanguinetti in 2018, it was a different story in the 6th Congressional District, where they beat Pritzker by five points. In 2016, the district backed Hillary Clinton for president.
Sanguinetti, 49, from Wheaton, must first secure the Republican nomination. Her release of a list of dozens of GOP Illinois endorsers — including Rauner — may be intended to send a signal to would-be primary challengers to stay out of the race.
Casten, 47, from Downers Grove, seeks a second term after defeating former Rep. Peter Roskam, R-Ill. 53.6 percent to 46.4 percent. He beat out six others in the Democratic primary. So far, Casten has no primary rivals.
Casten must commute back-and-forth from Washington, giving Sanguinetti the edge he had in 2018 of campaigning full-time.
Casten seeks a second term loosing what was a major issue for him: Roskam refused to hold town hall meetings, and that became a problem for him. Sanguinetti knows this and plans on being very accessible.
When we talked Monday, Sanguinetti was between campaign events, kicking off the day in Wheaton, where she once served on the City Council.
“Sean is about more politics, you know, sticking to his talking points, palling around with people in the very, very socialist far left, like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and really does not represent the 6th Congressional District. I’m not about talking points. I’m going to be that girl in Washington that’s all about solutions,” Sanguinetti said.
Casten campaign spokesman Chloe Hunt, asked to react, said, “It’s disappointing that right out of the gate, Sanguinetti is already resorting to Trump-esque name calling and untruths instead of focusing on the issues that matter to Illinois.’’
Social issues will play a major role in this campaign. Sanguinetti is against abortion and Casten backs abortion rights.
Sanguinetti is struggling with how to deal with Trump.
When I asked her if she endorsed Trump for re-election, she declined a direct answer. When I later asked for clarity from her spokesman, he said she supports Trump’s re-election, though she has “serious concerns” about the president.
Casten’s signature issue is climate change. I asked Sanguinetti if she believed in climate change.
“I do believe in climate change. I do not believe in the Green New Deal. And he had been quoted calling the Green New Deal ‘lovely.’’’
But Casten is not for AOC’s major agenda item.
Casten is a Green New Deal skeptic telling Crain’s Chicago Greg Hinz in February, “Personally I have not signed on to the Green New Deal, I didn’t write it, and I haven’t advocated for it.”