Retired jurist, farmer look to take on Sorenson for 17th Congress

By Bill Dwyer for Chronicle Media

Joe McGraw

Scott Crowl

Eric Sorensen

With the Illinois Congressional delegation presently overwhelmingly Democrat at 14-3, the GOP would love nothing better than to cut into that lead.

To that end, retired jurist Joe McGraw of Rockford and farmer and former union president Scott Crowl of Milan will oppose each other in the March 19 GOP primary for the right to face freshman incumbent Eric Sorenson in November.

The Illinois 17th District Congressional seat looks to be the only seat that has any real possibility of flipping in November; many experts consider it to be one of the most competitive districts in the nation. The district is anchored by Rockford to the north and Bloomington-Normal to the South and includes Peoria and the Illinois side of the Quad Cities region, comprised of Rock Island, Moline, and East Moline.

The National Republican Congressional Committee has designated the 17th one of its top target districts, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has named Sorenson one of 29 Democratic “Frontline” members. All that guarantees that both general election candidates will receive major financial and organizational help from their respective parties.

According the political magazine Roll Call, the DCCC provides “Frontline” incumbents with extra fundraising and messaging help.

“The designation, Roll Call wrote, “signals to potential benefactors, from big-money contributors to small-dollar digital donors, where to send their cash.”

Sorensen, of East Moline, defeated Republican Esther Joy King 52 percent to 48 percent in 2022. President Joe Biden carried the district in 2020 by about 8 percentage points.

Sorenson starts out with a sizable lead in campaign funding, with $1.13 million on hand. But that won’t go far in the November general election. In 2022, outside groups raised some $14 million for the two candidates. The Congressional Leadership Fund and the National Republican Congressional Committee poured nearly $7.3 million into the race. Sorensen received $6.7 million from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and thew House Majority PAC.

Both McGraw and Sorenson took swings at Sorenson as they entered the campaign.

McGraw, a conservative with strong connections to the GOP establishment, appears to be the preferred candidate of the National Republican Congressional Committee.

McGraw was appointed a judge in the 17th Judicial Circuit, covering Winnebago and Boone counties, in 2002. He was chief judge from 2012-17 and presiding judge over the criminal division from 2004 until his retirement.

In a statement to WREX Radio, McGraw said, “I’ve dedicated my life to law and order and serving the people of Illinois. I can no longer sit by and watch our country and our state go in the wrong direction.”

“Eric Sorensen is part of the problem; he votes with Biden’s failed agenda nearly 100 percent of the time,” said McGraw, vowing to “fight for our hardworking families and stand up to the out-of-touch Biden agenda.”

“There’s something wrong when big-city liberals would rather demonize honest cops than crack down on criminals, when politicians in Washington care more about illegal immigrants than the safety and security of our own citizens, and when the exporting of good manufacturing jobs, combined with record inflation, crushes families’ economic viability.”

Crowl, a former AFSCME union president, who calls himself a “a lifelong Republican and proud conservative,” also came out attacking Sorenson and Biden, as well as “coastal elites whose only concern is how to stay in power.”

“I am entering the political arena to try to save our country from economic disaster and social ruin,” Crowl said in announcing his candidacy. He said he does not believe Sorenson is representing voters in the 17th district.

“I’m running against the establishment,” he said. “If the establishment was so good at picking candidates I wouldn’t be running today.”