Somewhere out there, in the broad slab of Southern Illinois that comprises the 12th Congressional District, is the Democrats’ next nominee to win the seat that’s been in their hands since 1944.
But the identity of that person won’t be known for at least a week, or maybe longer, while the pressure mounts in a high stakes contest that Republican and Democratic leaders are calling a national bellwether for the Nov. 6 election.
Democratic Party chiefs in the dozen counties that form the 12th District must figure out which of at least five applicants to take the place of March 20 primary winner Brad Harriman, who quit the race late last month for health reasons.
The selection process is not scheduled to be finalized until at least next week.
Meanwhile, Republican nominee Jason Plummer is moving ahead in the race to replace the retiring incumbent, U.S. Rep. Jerry Costello, D-Belleville — at least that’s the upshot of a poll last month of 400 district voters conducted for the Plummer campaign.
Sixty percent of independent voters surveyed said it is more important to elect a Republican than a Democrat, according to Plummer’s poll, which was conducted by Public Opinion Strategies, a Republican research outfit based in northern Virginia.
“The race won’t be about Jason Plummer versus the next person,” he said. “This is about two different beliefs in how government should operate. Two different beliefs in how we should turn around the 12th Congressional District.”
The choice is between the status quo — Obama and Pelosi — or “a path of what I would think really would bring economic spark and growth and economic opportunity back to the 12th District,” said Plummer, who advocates a regimen of lower taxes and reduced government regulation, especially when it comes to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Plummer sees the Democrats’ search for a new 12th District candidate as a setback for their cause.
In contrast, the woman overseeing that search sees it in a positive light.
“This has breathed a whole new life into this congressional campaign,” said Barb Brown, the state Democratic central committeewoman for the 12th District.
Brown, the Democratic Randolph County clerk, is evincing no such concerns for the general election.
After all, Plummer has aligned himself with the sharp budgetary cuts contained in the spending plan proposed by U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., the chairman of the House Budget Committee, Brown said.
“I think Southern Illinois voters are going to be very concerned about a candidate that ties himself to Paul Ryan’s budget and cuts in Social Security and cuts in Medicare,” Brown said. “And policies that benefit the wealthiest and not the middle class.”
The Democrats’ search for a new 12th District candidate is an “opportunity to pick a candidate that people feel very strongly about,” Brown said. “What we are looking for is a candidate who reflects the values of the 12th district. I don’t think Mr. Plummer reflects those values.”
Everyone seems to agree that the Democratic and Republican candidates in the 12th District race will receive a lot of national attention and outside dollars because of the symbolic importance of winning Costello’s seat, Redfield said.
The pressure is especially acute for Illinois Democrats, Redfield said. Illinois was one of the few states where Democrats could redraw Congressional district maps almost any way they chose, he said.
“The Democrats were in a position to create districts to knock off Republicans and pick up seats,” Redfield said. “This is as favorable a map as you can get here. They’ve got to be successful here because this is as favorable as the Democrats could draw.”
But a spate of tough economic news led the liberal blog the Daily Kos recently to change its rating on the 12th District race from “Lean D (Democrat),” to “Tossup.”