Earlier this year, experts believed that Democratic candidate Lauren Underwood had no chance at defeating Republican incumbent Rep. Randy Hultgren. They were wrong. Today, voters in Illinois’ 14th District elected her to the seat, ending Hultgren's eight-year tenure.
Underwood, a 32-year-old nurse and Obama administration alumna, will be the first Black person and first woman to ever represent this majority-white, heavily Republican district.
Underwood is one of the many first-time candidates this election season who say they never had aspirations to run for office — until her congressman broke a promise. At a public question-and-answer session last year, Hultgren assured Underwood and other constituents at the meeting that he would not support a version of the Affordable Care Act repeal that excluded protections for pre-existing conditions. But then, he returned to D.C. and voted for the GOP bill anyway. These Obamacare protections are personal for Underwood because she herself has a pre-existing condition known as supraventricular tachycardia, a cardiac condition that causes occasional episodes of abnormal heart beat.
“I think representatives should be transparent and honest with us, and ultimately know that they’re accountable to the voters,” she told Refinery29 earlier this year. “And he didn’t seem to recognize that fact, so I said, you know what? It’s on. I’m running.”
Underwood launched her bid in August 2017. Seven months later, she handily defeated six white, middle-aged men in the Democratic primary with 57.5% of the vote. This meant the self-proclaimed "hometown girl" from Naperville, IL quickly became a political rising star. She was endorsed by everyone from Emily’s List and The Sierra Club to the Chicago Sun-Times and AFL-CIO Illinois. She even received the backing of her former boss, President Barack Obama.
Underwood, who consistently outraised Hultgren, was clearly his toughest opponent since he was first elected to the House in 2010. Now, she's tasked with making good on her promise to defend the interests of the 14th District in Washington. And of course, she hopes her history-making win will pave the way for other groundbreaking candidates.
“In this moment we have a whole generation of women, certainly around the 14th district, who have now seen that another young woman can be bold, courageous, and fearless,” Underwood told Refinery29. “Hopefully, they’ll be inspired to lead as well.”