This race is a perfect microcosm of the debate this election will be about. On one side, we have a candidate who has spent his career as part of the political machine. Having spent 16 years working as a congressional aide for climate change denier and Ryan-budget supporter John Shimkus, Rodney Davis is now aiming for a seat beside him. He is getting funding from the Koch brothers and big oil, and he is doing a good job of keeping allegations of his role in a money-laundering scandal out of the news.
On the other side, you have Dr. David Gill, an emergency room doctor who got into politics after seeing the effects of a broken health care system first-hand. Gill is a supporter of single-payer and marriage equality who refuses to take money from corporate PACS. He eked out a primary victory over a conserva-Dem preferred by the DCCC, and now faces a race for this open seat that is expected to be very close.
Anyway, I had moved away from Illinois, and I had Dr. Gill chalked up as a great candidate in a hopeless district… until I saw the results of re-districting in Illinois. The bulk of Dr. Gill’s base from Champaign, McLean, and DeWitt counties was no longer a part of the red and rural old 15th that Tim Johnson knew so well. Gill’s base is now in the new 13th district, which encompasses Democratic parts of Bloomington, Springfield, and Edwardsville, including a number of universities and community colleges. It is definitely a winnable race now.
Now, don’t get me wrong. The state party didn’t draw up this district for Dr. Gill. In fact, the Party establishment threw their weight behind the other guy. He was a family friend of Dick Durbin, and I can’t blame them for their logic: they think that Blue Dog centrism is the safe bet. I politely disagree.
The people of the 13th district agreed with me, although by a relatively bitter sliver. That’s saying something about his grassroots support, considering he was outspent 5-1 in the primaries. In Champaign, DeWitt, Piatt, and McLean counties (the only parts of the new 13th that came from the old 15th), Dr. Gill trounced Goetten. Dr. Gill will be a proud voice for reform, and he has a true grassroots campaign behind him. Most of the Democrats that supported Goetten down here did so because of the electability argument, and they have closed ranks behind Dr. Gill.
Unexpectedly, Tim Johnson, the sitting incumbent, announced that he was retiring shortly after Gill’s unexpected primary win. Johnson gave the usual line about “wanting to spend more time with his family,” but it sounds he was scared he might lose his first election. He certainly wasn’t fundraising like someone with plans to retire.
After this bombshell, the GOP was forced to search for a candidate to replace Johnson. They looked past Erika Harold (a female multi-racial Harvard Law grad and former Miss America winner), and chose Rodney Davis.
Rodney Davis has spent more than a decade as a Congressional aide to John Shimkus for more than a decade, and a supporter of the Ryan budget. He raised nearly half a million dollars in the past five weeks, as the GOP machine has thrown its full weight behind him. He has experience working with dark money behind the scenes. In fact, that might be part of the reason the GOP picked him. The GOP didn’t have the benefit of an actual primary election, and it seems that actual Republicans in the district aren’t especially enthused about the outcome.