Illini Democrats aim to bring progressivism to a district that leans red

By Erin Cady, Staff Writer

The 2018 midterm elections brought some sweeping wins for Democrats, who ended up reclaiming the House majority.

A voice for the Democratic party on campus, the Illini Democrats put out intense efforts in the weeks before the election to get student voters registered, canvass for regional Democratic candidates and promote the message of progressivism that has defined the newest era of Democrats.

Champaign County saw gains for the Democrats in local elections as well, with them winning all five out of the five county offices up for grabs. Furthermore, Democrats picked up five new democratic members of the county board.

But beyond campus and Champaign-Urbana, the Republicans maintained a grip on the congressional and local races in the latest election.

Campus is located in Illinois’ 13th congressional district. According to 2016 election results from Politico, IL-13 voted republican in its congressional race and almost all counties within this district voted for Donald Trump in the presidential election. Champaign County was the only county to vote for Hillary Clinton.

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Flash forward to the 2018 midterm elections, and IL-13 has remained red. But the Illini Democrats are not discouraged; after working for months on campus and engaging in the community, they feel the rumbles of a political shift coming to the 13th district of Illinois.

These shifts come in the form of growing numbers of democratic representation throughout Champaign county and more student political involvement, a shift that Illini Democrat member Nathan Poulosky said keeps him optimistic about the future of Democrats on campus and beyond.

“I felt very optimistic (about the recent election results),” Poulosky said. “Champaign County traditionally, during midterm elections, will vote for Republicans in all of the county office positions, and that changed this year. The Democrats won all five county offices up for election.”

Poulosky has been engaged with politics from a young age and very early on felt connected to the ideals and goals of the Democratic party. As a native to Champaign County, joining Illini Democrats was his way to stay engaged with a community he cared deeply about while promoting the ideals that felt close to him.

“I’ve always been pretty passionate about politics. The changes and who we elect really impacts people’s lives, and I’ve always fallen more towards the left of the political spectrum,” Poulosky said. “When I joined Illini Democrats, it was the middle of the 2016 election and I wanted to help get more democrats elected and Illini Democrats seemed like a good organization.”

Even for newer members to Illini Democrats, like Mallory Wentworth, the changes that came from this recent election felt palpable in a way that has not been seen in previous years.

“I’ve lived in Champaign my entire life and I would say (the political climate) is definitely changing,” Wentworth said. “What we’re seeing in terms of county candidates is incredible and what we’ve saw a lot of, specifically, was a large increase in voter turnout, and I think that was really incredible to see.”

For the Illini Democrats, engaging with the University and working in the community is key to promoting the progressive platform. President of Illini Democrats, Audrey Dombro, is eager to continue bringing awareness to issues she finds to be crucial to societal operations including environmental protections, criminal justice and healthcare.

“I care about other people and I think the democratic platform, in a lot of ways, aligns with my values,” Dombro said. “I’m from the Twin Cities and I saw a lot of injustices beginning with the shooting of Philando Castille, and being exposed to those injustices kind of translated to getting involved on campus and being active in politics here at school.”

Like Poulosky and Wentworth, Dombro is drawn to the democratic party because of their platforms that she sees as being more inclusive, more compassionate and paying more attention to the needs of anyone and everyone.

“I study policy, international trade, and development and I’m learning about economics and how different groups come together,” Dombro said. “What I’m realizing is that we can’t continue to profit off of the environment and off of each other, but we also need to give.”

For Illini Democrats, their challenge lies in convincing the constituents of Champaign-Urbana. Beyond that, the Democratic National Committee’s ideals of equality and inclusion are the best and most effective policies for America. This strategy means working to find common ground and ideas within a district that continues to vote red and show support for more conservative ideas.

“In national media, we hear shaming of both sides of the political spectrum,” Dombro said. “We need to find where we can work together; when we come together on things like taxes, we can work together and make progress.”

Going forward, the Illini Democrats hope to continue to spread their message of inclusion and progress, making sure that no constituent or student feels that their voices are not being heard.

“Continuing to be able to reach out to people with different political views and find out what we are able to do to help them and improve their lives that is what the Democratic party is about,” Dombro said. “It doesn’t scare me to see that parts of the district are red. I am inspired, and I am motivated.”

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