The Cheri Bustos File

by Liam Farrell | Photo courtesy of AP/The Dispatch, Todd Weveart

U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos ’83 was a rare beacon of success for Democrats in the 2016 elections. Though her northwestern Illinois district went for President Donald Trump, Bustos coasted to a third term by more than 20 points.

As her party looks to win back small-town and rural voters, Bustos is leading the party’s “heartland engagement” and getting noticed on the national stage, with POLITICO Magazine calling her a potential “secret weapon” for Democrats. She spoke to Terp about her background and message for the 2018 congressional elections.

1. Bustos was drawn to UMD while interning with the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. “It was a steady stream of just being around wonderful professors,” she says. “I was able to have a tremendous education there on government and politics.”

2. Her political education started early: Bustos’ grandfather was a farmer and a state legislator, and her father was a newspaper reporter who later became an aide to Illinois congressmen and senators. “I was around it my whole life,” she says.

3. Before running for office and working in health care communications, Bustos spent almost two decades as a reporter and editor for The Quad-City Times, interviewing everyone from gang members to presidential candidates. “It’s a great foundation (for politics),” she says. “I’m comfortable around people in all different settings. I try very hard to listen more than I talk.”

4. Bustos takes the pulse of her district through a series of job-shadowing events called “Cheri on Shift” and “Supermarket Saturdays,” where she asks shoppers about their concerns. She had a sense that 2016 wasn’t going to go her party’s way. “I knew we were missing the mark.”

5. Her prescription for the midterms is getting back to economic messaging and speaking to people who’ve been left behind. “When (Trump) talked about bringing jobs home, that resonated in districts like mine,” she says. “We stand for five things: jobs, jobs, education, jobs and jobs.”


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