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Bustos Appears To Hold Off King In Tight 17th District Race

Democratic U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, left, has claimed victory over first-time Republican challenger Esther Joy King in the race for the 17th Congressional District seat.

UPDATED 1:15 A.M. | Illinois voters appear to have given U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos a fifth term representing the 17th Congressional District.

While the race had not been called by The Associated Press as of 1 a.m. Wednesday, the incumbent Democrat from Moline claimed victory over Republican newcomer Esther Joy King, with 52% of the vote and 99% of precincts reporting in the sprawling district that includes parts of Peoria, Pekin and East Peoria.

“It is the privilege of my lifetime to represent northwest and central Illinois and to serve as your voice in Washington,” Bustos said in a media release. “Thank you for re-electing me to serve you for another two years.”

The tight race saw the lead swing between the two candidates as Election Night progressed, as King held a 1,040-vote margin with 97% reporting. The late update reversed that total to an 11,200-vote advantage for Bustos, the chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

“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,” she said in her statement.

The race could still turn on thousands of mail-in ballots that must be counted if they are received by election authorities in the district by Nov. 17. Locally, Bustos received 68% of the vote in Peoria County, while King claimed 55% of the balloting in Tazewell County.

King, a 34-year-old real estate lawyer who serves in the U.S. Army Reserves, ran on a platform focused on revising the Affordable Care Act to offer more market options. Her campaign got a boost in the final weeks when the Cook Political Report shifted the race from “likely Democrat” to “leaning Democrat.”

Earlier Tuesday night, King said she was “cautiously optimistic” and credited her supporters for putting her in contention.

“No matter what happens, we are so proud of the race that we've run as a team,” said King, who had not conceded as of 12:30 a.m. “I couldn’t have done it without everyone around me. We talked this whole last week about being ‘all gas, no brakes’ and leaving it all out there on the field, giving it everything we've got. And we did that.”

A former journalist with family roots in farming, Bustos sits on the House’s Appropriations and Agriculture committees. She has pushed for a second round of economic relief amid the COVID-19 pandemic during a recent campaign stop in Peoria.

“The American public needs this to get taken care of,” she said then. “We need to make sure the stimulus checks go out to families that need it. We need to make sure that our frontline workers can continue to work and get paid accordingly. That we get aid to state and local governments that desperately need it.”

She also has advocated for job creation and economic growth, and preserving the ACA while lowering health insurance premiums and prescription costs.

King suggested Bustos’ allegiance with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi turned off many voters in the district.

“She has served her own political career over the people of the Illinois 17th,” said King. “That’s been a fact since the beginning of this campaign. I’ve heard from people time and time again how they want better representation. So the opportunity has been there.”

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Contact Joe at jdeacon@ilstu.edu.