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Thursday, Oct. 9, 2014 12:01 am

Ad nauseam

Slogging through the season’s political ads

U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, a Republican representing Illinois’ 13th Congressional District is running for re-election against Democratic challenger Ann Callis.


Part 1 – 13th Congressional District: Rodney Davis vs. Ann Callis

William Shakespeare’s comedy As You Like It is famous for the line “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” Nowhere is that more evident than in political advertisements, which offer candidates a blank canvas to paint themselves in the best possible light. To help voters, and the disillusioned among us, navigate the mischaracterizations, half-truths and glowing self-praise, we’ll highlight ads in races important to Springfield in the weeks leading up to the Nov. 4 general election.

Illinois’ 13th Congressional District includes most of Springfield, Champaign-Urbana, Decatur, Edwardsville, half of Bloomington-Normal, and the area between those cities. Incumbent Rep. Rodney Davis, a Republican from Taylorville, faces Democratic challenger Ann Callis, a former Madison County circuit judge who is renting a house in Edwardsville because her primary residence in Troy is outside the district.

Callis’ residency has been a hot topic in this race following a report by the Springfield bureau of Lee Newspapers that Callis signed mortgage papers proclaiming she lives in St. Louis. The Callis campaign claimed the residency confusion was the result of a poorly designed legal document, but Davis’ campaign seized the chance to bash Callis in radio ads.

Callis is the underdog in this race, according to a poll of 932 likely voters commissioned by Capitol Fax and taken Oct. 1 by polling firm We Ask America. The poll puts Davis comfortably ahead of Callis 51 percent to 38 percent, with 11 percent undecided. Callis apparently knew she had a difficult race ahead, and she hasn’t been bashful about attacking Davis’ record in Washington.

One of her ads says that Davis spent tens of thousands of dollars on steak dinners, first class flights and an exclusive private health club. In reality, Davis’ steakhouse bills were campaign expenses not funded by taxes, and his campaign says the health club is the House gym only open to members of the U.S. House of Representatives.

“Rep. Davis pays for access to a gymnasium just like hundreds of other members of Congress, including the Chairman of the DCCC (Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee), Steve Israel,” Davis said in an emailed response to the ad. “Additionally, since Congressman Davis does not live in DC and sleeps in his office when he’s there, the gym is his only access to a shower.”

Davis’ campaign also says he doesn’t fly first class on the taxpayers’ dime, and he voted to ban lawmakers from doing so. He even used a portion of Callis’ own ad in a response ad to describe her attack as “a load of bull.”

In addition to TV and radio ads, the Callis campaign and a national Republican group are extensively using emails as advertisements. Callis has used frequent email blasts to reporters to try to gin up negative news stories about her opponent’s record, including nicknaming him “Do Nothing Davis.”  Additionally, her incessant fundraising emails badger potential donors, sometimes with several emails per day. The subject line of one message even says “I won’t stop (emailing).”

Meanwhile, the National Republican Congressional Committee has been especially aggressive on behalf of Davis. An NRCC email campaign against Callis has mocked her record as a judge, implied she only became a judge because of her father’s political connections, and falsely accused Callis of plagiarizing part of her campaign website.

The race to represent Illinois’ 13th Congressional District was originally seen by Democratic operatives as winnable, especially because the district was drawn to favor Democratic candidates. However, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee cut funding for TV ads on behalf of Callis earlier this week, which may be a sign that the group doesn’t think Callis can win. A representative from the organization didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Davis defeated passionate Democrat David Gill to win Illinois’ 13th Congressional seat in 2012, and he appears poised to win again. Callis has failed to stand out as a candidate with her bland positive ads and her inability to make any mud stick to Davis, and she may soon regret stepping down as judge to enter this race.

Contact Patrick Yeagle at pyeagle@illinoistimes.com


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