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Republican Joe McGraw pushes border security in competitive 17th Congressional District race

Two men in side-by-side pictures smiling at camera
U.S. House of Representatives
Republican Joe McGraw, left, faces Democratic incumbent Eric Sorensen in the Illinois 17th Congressional District general election.

A Republican nominee for Congress says he will continue to push a campaign theme of law-and-order in the general election, something he used to help win the party’s primary this week.

“I don’t think we have to pivot at all,” said retired judge Joe McGraw of Rockford, adding he believes border security is a big problem. "Our message was not pandering to GOP voters, it was simply addressing the issues that they felt … the number one issue is they don’t feel safe, they don’t feel secure.”

McGraw would not say if he would support the recent border security bill that congressional Republicans helped craft and then killed.

He said the Biden administration could solve the problem by restoring previous Trump administration rules, including Trump’s 2019 policy that forced asylum seekers to stay in Mexico while awaiting an immigration hearing in the U.S. McGraw also called for greater security on the southern border and for the border wall to be finished.

“I don’t have to reinvent the wheel. The problem was directly addressed and solved before Biden disassembled it one step at a time,” he said.

On Tuesday, McGraw handily defeated Scott Crowl in the Republican primary for the 17th Congressional District. The district spans from Bloomington-Normal and snakes west and north to include Peoria, the Quad Cities and Rockford. The district is one of the few highly competitive congressional districts that Republicans think they can flip as they try to maintain a slim majority.

McGraw faces first-term Democratic congressman Eric Sorensen in the November election.

McGraw said he would take a practical approach to Washington, suggesting some congressional Republicans have gone too far in trying to force a government shutdown.

“You have those that want all or nothing and sometimes they are content to get nothing. That’s not an approach that works,” said McGraw, adding that House Speaker Mike Johnson has served as a quiet leader who has managed Republican Party factions.

Political analysts have rated the 17th District as leaning left.

McGraw said he hopes national interest in the race will translate to national Republican Party dollars going to support his bid to beat the incumbent.

“There’s plenty of interest I’m sure on both sides,” McGraw said.

Sorensen ran unopposed in the Democratic primary.

Eric Stock is the News Director at WGLT. You can contact Eric at ejstoc1@ilstu.edu.