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Thursday, March 15, 2018 12:07 am

Democrats in 13th challenge Davis, Trump

While U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, faces no primary opponent, Democrats are preparing for the fall general election, focusing on November and the incumbent instead of each other in the March 20 primary.

The 13th Congressional District that encompasses a wide swath of central Illinois has long been seen as a swing district where Democrats have a chance, and primary candidates have been spending plenty of time and money arguing that the incumbent is a lackey of an unpopular president. Kent Redfield, a retired political science professor from University of Illinois Springfield, pointed out that the district includes several college campuses, where voters tend to vote liberal.

“In the 13th you’ve got Bloomington-Normal, which is Illinois State,” Redfield said. “You’ve got Champagne-Urbana, which is U of I, you’ve got a chunk of Springfield. … So it has more potential [for a flip] in a competitive year than you would think.”

The five candidates running in the Democratic primary include Jonathan Ebel, a University of Illinois professor in the Department of Religion, David Gill, a physician, Erik Jones, a former assistant state attorney general, Betsy Dirksen Londrigan, a former aide to U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin, and Angel Sides, a teacher. Londrigan, who has raised more than $560,000, and Jones, who had raised more than $476,000, are leading the money race, according to data from the Federal Election Commission.

While Democrats in the primary are pushing Obama-era programs such as the Affordable Care Act, Davis isn’t necessarily in trouble. The Democratic Party likely will spend more money and time on suburban Chicago districts come November than downstate races, Redfield said.

“The 13th is probably the third-highest priority for the Democrats,” Redfield said. “It is a better prospect – particularly for downstate – than anything else you’re looking at.”

Redfield explained that a number of factors must line up to flip the district from Republican to Democrat, many of which are out of the control of candidates. Things happening on a statewide or national level likely will impact voters as they cast their ballots.

“Voters, they’re more drawn to the polls by the people at the top of the ticket,” he said. “And if they’re not excited about re-electing Rauner, that’s not helping Davis.”

Davis’ support for policies espoused by President Donald Trump could add to problems for the GOP in the 13th. Polls have shown that Trump is among the most unpopular of American presidents since polls have been taken. And Davis’ voting record aligns with Trump proposals 95 percent of the time, including overhauling the federal tax code and validating concealed-carry permits across state lines. And so it is not surprising that Democrats are painting Davis as a Trump stool pigeon, betting that he’ll ultimately poll as well as the president has.

“Clearly what the Democrats are doing this time around, they’re going to go after him on health care,” Redfield said.

“I want to make sure that [people] don’t lose everything that they’ve worked for their entire lives because of one medical emergency,” Londrigan said during a March 6 debate sponsored by the State Journal-Register and WMAY radio. “I know what it feels like to be terrified in the hospital and terrified all over again when you get home and the bills start coming. I will stand up for our health care.”

Jones goes beyond Obama on health care issues, saying during the March 6 debate that the Affordable Care Act didn’t go far enough.

“I was part of the fight to get the [Affordable Care Act] passed through the United States Senate and the Congress,” said Jones, who was once a lawyer for the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce. “The failure at that time … was ensuring there was some kind of cost-control involved in the marketplace. And so what I’ve been pushing for in order to get there is to allow anybody to opt into Medicare. So that way you have the government involved, which will be a cost-control mechanism, and also it’s the quickest way we can get the universal coverage.”

And so the 13th has become a microcosm of the national political scene. 

“Davis wants to be your congressman,” Redfield said, characterizing the incumbent’s campaign stance. “He’s one of us, he understands us, and all that sort of stuff. And the Democrats would like to weigh him down with baggage in terms of issues, but also just generally in terms of Trumpism. It’s certainly going to be a tougher race (for the GOP) than the last two times around.”

Megan Swett is an editorial intern for Illinois Times through the public affairs reporting program of University of Illinois Springfield. Contact her at intern@illinoistimes.com.

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