SPRINGFIELD — “Thank you, and then let’s get to work,” Nikki Budzinski said on Election Night to a cheering crowd at the Hoogland Center for the Arts.
Budzinski had a lot to celebrate. She successfully flipped Illinois’ 13th congressional district blue after it being a Republican stronghold for years. Most recently, five-term Republican Rep. Rodney Davis represented the district before he lost in a primary earlier this year after redistricting to fellow incumbent Mary Miller in the 15th district.
In 2018, Democratic challenger Betsy Londrigan came within 1% of bringing the seat to Democrats.
Budzinski worked as an aide to Governor JB Pritzker and President Joe Biden, but this was her first time running for political office.
She secured victory by over 20,000 votes.
Budzinski said this win is a personal one, as a Peoria native and graduate of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.
She said her first move in Congress will be to help working people.
“My top priority in Congress will be tackling rising costs, and helping those same families keep more of what they earn,” Budzinski said. “And that to me means middle class tax relief. That means lowering the cost of prescription drugs.”
Chris Frydenger, a utility worker from Monticello (and a member of United Steelworkers Local 7-838), was featured in the comedic commercial “Buttinski,” where he tried and failed to pronounce the congresswoman-elect’s name.
He said he voted for Budzinski because of her support for labor and reproductive rights.
“You know, even though I’m not a woman myself, I do want women to have the same rights as men do,” Frydenger said. “And that includes choosing what they do with their body. And I know that she’s behind that. And also, I am in the labor movement. I know that she’s a champion of workers.”
Frydenger said he never really struggled with pronouncing her name, but that it was a unique experience having a beer with your future congresswoman.
“I couldn’t be prouder to be a part of it. Just being a part of a positive ad, and (it) made people laugh. And it brought people to her,” he said.
Budzinski will be among the first women to represent Central and Southern Illinois — joining Republican Mary Miller, who was just re-elected to a second term.
Deering concedes after Champaign County votes counted
Republican candidate Regan Deering conceded around midnight on Tuesday. Her friends and family gathered at The Decatur Club in the city’s downtown.
“We really didn’t expect to get this far. We stood up for life when many other people were backing away. We showed that you can be a conservative woman and (be) taken very seriously. We showed that here in Central Illinois, we can put up a good fight,” Deering said.
Deering viewed herself as a political newcomer with the potential to shake up Washington. Deering is an activist and educator, and the granddaughter of Dwayne Andreas, former chairman of Archer Daniels Midland.
She became involved in politics during the early part of COVID-19 — pushing back, with other conservative parents, against the state “mask mandate.”
Her campaign for congress, though, focused on kitchen table issues.
“Voters regardless of party are feeling the extra pressures of record-high inflation and (the) kind of crime that’s on the rise,” Deering said recently.
Deering was endorsed by the NRA, Former Acting U.S. Attorney General (under the Trump administration) Matthew Whitaker, and the late Congressman Tim Johnson, among others.
Deering grew up in Decatur, and many locals at her Election Night watch party said they couldn’t vote for her because of redistricting.
Her cousin, Paul Whitley, lives in Mount Zion, to the south of Decatur. He said the village feels like a part of the Decatur community.
“Once they reset the boundaries, a lot of her constituents (at) least locally, all of a sudden…couldn’t vote for her. I mean, I wanted to put her in as a write-in candidate,” Whitley said.
Democrats in the State House redrew the 13th congressional district to favor their party. It stretches from Champaign-Urbana to Springfield to East St. Louis. Despite its irregular shape, judges upheld the new congressional map.
Harrison Malkin is a reporter for Illinois Public Media. Follow him @HarrisonMalkin
Emily Hays is a reporter for Illinois Public Media. Follow her on Twitter @amihatt