With Election Day fast approaching, House Speaker Paul Ryan visited northeastern McHenry County on Friday afternoon to campaign for U.S. Rep. Randy Hultgren, who is trying to hold onto his seat in Congress representing the far northwest and western suburbs.
The outgoing speaker told a packed cafeteria at a metal forging plant that Republicans“have a phenomenal record of accomplishment” and voters should return the incumbent Illinois congressman to Washington.
“Randy Hultgren saw problems in his community that his constituents were experiencing and he went to tackle those problems,” Ryan said during a rally at the corporate headquarters of Scot Forge in Spring Grove, about 5 miles from the Wisconsin state line. “That’s the kind of person you want working for you in Congress.”
Hultgren’s in a neck-and-neck race with Democrat Lauren Underwood for the 14th Congressional District seat.
Ryan’s visit to northern Illinois comes two days after Underwood received a boost from former Vice President Joe Biden, who spoke before more than 1,000 people at the Kane County Fairgrounds.
The Ryan-Hultgren event was a more intimate affair, with about 150 employees, local Republican officials and residents packed into the company’s cafeteria. A large banner with the words “Your Vote Counts” hung on the wall, and the room was adorned with red, white and blue balloons.
Ryan said the U.S. economy is going strong in large part because of the actions of Republicans and credited the Republican tax bill for leading to increased business productivity and more job opportunities.
“We are seeing an economic renaissance we have not seen for a long time in this country,” Ryan said.
Ryan, who is not running for re-election this autumn, represents the 1st Congressional District in Wisconsin, just over the state line from Hultgren’s district. Scot Forge also has a manufacturing facility in Clinton, Wis., near Beloit in Ryan’s territory.
After Hultgren spoke and introduced Ryan, shaking his hand, the Wisconsin Republican patted his Illinois mate on the chest with the microphone.
“He forgot to say, ‘Go Packers,’” Ryan joked. “But that’s OK.”
The crowd, many dressed in the plaid, or tartan, style suit coats that are a signature look for Scot Forge employees, booed and groaned.
“OK, go tartan — how about that?” Ryan said to cheers.
Hultgren said he appreciated Ryan’s visit and said he believes it will help the campaign with a final finishing kick five days before the election.
“Honestly, I believe this is one of the most important elections of our entire lifetime, we say that a lot, but it feels so pivotal, and this race is really pivotal,” Hultgren told the crowd.
Hultgren said a booming economy has led to increased optimism throughout the district, due in part to “getting the boot of government off the backs of businesses, especially small business.”
“Are we going to keep moving forward, is it going to be about results, about achievement, about optimism and about growth?” Hultgren said. “Or is it going to be about resistance, stopping, turning around, dysfunction, disruption? That’s what the choices are.”
Sharmella Harris, an employee in the Scot Forge human resources department who attended the event, said Hultgren has helped the company recruit talent and market itself within the community, especially with younger people. She also appreciated the congressman’s support of ESOPs, or employee owned stock ownership plans. Scot Forge is an employee-owned company that makes aerospace, energy, mineral extraction and military equipment, said chairman and CEO John Cain, who introduced the two congressmen.
“He’s really been behind us and active in the community,” said Harris, who was among those wearing a bright red plaid suit jacket. She and fellow employee Nick Huber of Ryan’s hometown, Janesville, Wis., also said they appreciate the Republicans’ messages about low taxes and smaller government.
Ryan’s trip to Illinois continued with a campaign visit to the nearby 6th Congressional District for a volunteer event with U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam, who is in a toss-up race with Democrat Sean Casten. That event was not open to the media.
The speaker’s visit is among a flurry of visits from big-name politicians from both parties as the midterm elections near. Former President Barack Obama will be rallying with Illinois Democrats at the UIC Pavilion on Sunday. U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., campaigned for Roskam in Oak Brook and Downers Grove on Monday.
Hultgren is running for re-election in a district that has traditionally supported Republicans. But Underwood has received an outpouring of support from young, women residents, and has placed health care at the center of her pitch to voters. Underwood has hammered Hultgren on his vote to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, accusing the congressman of voting for a bill that would not protect people with pre-existing conditions.
Ryan mentioned health care in his speech Friday, saying Republicans wanted to craft legislation that protected those with medical conditions while also lowering premiums.
After the speeches, Hultgren reiterated that “Section 137B” of the bill “clearly stated that pre-existing conditions must be protected and could not be discarded.” He said Underwood is mischaracterizing his position and again said “obviously, she hasn’t read the bill.”
A Congressional Budget Office report on the legislation said the ramifications of the bill would mean those with pre-existing conditions would end up paying more for their coverage and it could lead to cost-prohibitive circumstances.
Hultgren said Underwood is cherry-picking parts of the report that fit her position.
Ryan urged those in attendance to urge at least 10 people to visit the polls, saying votes for Hultgren and Republicans are “improving lives.”
“He’s doing exactly, exactly what we want our elected officials to do, which is keep their word, make a positive difference and get things going in the right direction,” Ryan said.
The speaker also noted that since an enormous amount of national money is flowing into the campaign for political advertisements, it’s probably wise to stay away from television until Election Day.
“My advice to you is don’t watch TV,” Ryan told the crowd. “Unless it’s the Packers, of course.”
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