With an announced Democratic field that has yet to produce a prominent name, there has been speculation in local political circles that St. Clair County State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly will declare his candidacy for the 12th Congressional District, a seat held by Republican Mike Bost.
The race for the 2018 Democratic nomination for the 12th District has garnered a lot of interest from prospective candidates.
So far, three people have formally announced their candidacies: Dean Pruitt, of Millstadt; David Bequette, of Columbia; and Adam King, of Alton. Pat McMahan, of Mascoutah, and Nathan Colombo, of Carbondale, have filed paperwork to run for the Democratic nomination, but have yet to formally announce their candidacies.
Chris Miller, a Roxana native, is raising money to run in the 12th.
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Also John A. Sholar, who works in St. Louis as an attorney, is considering a run for Congress.
The winner in the March Democratic Party primary will end up facing Bost, who is from Murphysboro.
Political insiders say Kelly, a Swansea resident, has been contacted by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee about running in the 2018 midterms, and that he is seriously considering a run.
Kelly was not immediately available for comment.
During last year’s campaign, when Kelly was running unopposed for his re-election to a four-year term as state’s attorney, he did some campaign work for now-U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth.
Kelly served as emcee at a Duckworth meet-and-greet with local Democrats at the former Pitchers restaurant in Belleville. Later in the campaign, Kelly had a conference call on behalf of the Duckworth campaign to criticize then-Sen. Mark Kirk, a Republican, for not doing enough for veterans.
As state’s attorney, Kelly has filed a lawsuit against pharmaceutical companies saying patients have been misled about the dangers of opioids, and has taken on public corruption and voter-fraud cases.
(Kelly) has the potential to reach into Bost’s base. He could be a formidable candidate if he were to run.
Andrew Theising, associate professor of political science at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville
As of Friday, Kelly had not filed any paperwork with the Federal Election Commission to run, but Democratic Party insiders said he probably would wait until after July 1 to file, in order to give himself a full quarter to gather contributions before having to file a fundraising report.
Kelly would have high name recognition, particularly in St. Clair County, which has largest population of counties in the 12th Congressional District.
During a recent Madison County Democratic Party gathering, several people running for congress or governor, or their surrogates, introduced themselves to the crowd.
Among those in attendance was Kelly, who did not say if he was running, but gave a rousing address to those in attendance.
Madison County Democratic Party chairman Mark Von Nida, who is also the circuit clerk in Madison County, introduced Kelly.
“Right now we don’t have a declared candidate in Brendan Kelly,” Von Nida said, as if hoping for an announcement.
During his remarks, Kelly spoke about his upbringing, his background including his stint in the Navy, attending Notre Dame University, and mentioned that his family came to the area because of Scott Air Force Base.
Kelly spoke about the importance of the work being done by the party members in attendance.
“In politics it matters, government matters, who our leaders are matter. It’s not something we could put aside. It’s not something where we could the turn channel off and ignore it,” Kelly said. “It’s not something where we could say that’s not my problem anymore. It matters. You could feel it in your gut right now in this country. You could feel that things are deeply, deeply wrong, and it’s been going that way a long time.”
He added: “The rich are getting richer. The poor are getting poorer. The middle class is getting crushed. And the Republicans are a party of putting power in the hands of fewer and fewer people. That is the opposite of what we have always stood up for in the Democratic Party.”
He also made references to President Donald Trump and Gov. Bruce Rauner, both Republicans.
“It is bigger than this cold-hearted, incompetent businessman we have in the governor’s mansion, it is bigger than that,” Kelly said. “It is bigger than this blowhard person who is ignorant of our constitution, who is currently in the White House. It’s even bigger than that.”
As Kelly’s remarks concluded, he urged those in attendance to keep working hard, and included a call to action.
“We are the party of bearing any burden, paying any price, meeting any challenge, courting any friend, opposing any foe to defend freedom. That is what we’re about,” Kelly said. “So, when you are tired of getting another signature on a petition, get one more. When you are tired of knocking on doors, knock on one more. When you are tired of registering voters, register one more. When you are tired of making calls, call one more. When you are tired of driving people to the polls, drive some more.”
In 2016, Bost won his election with 54.3 percent of the vote over Democrat C.J. Baricevic who received 39.7 percent of the vote and Green Party Candidate Paula Bradshaw who received 6 percent of the vote.
In 2014, Bost won the election with 52.5 percent of the vote, over one-term Democratic Congressman Bill Enyart who received 41.9 percent of the vote. Bradshaw received 5.6 percent of the vote.
With those margins, the DCCC has eyed the 12th District as a possible seat to flip to Democratic.
Maddie Anderson, a regional press secretary for National Republican Congressional Committee, remained confident Bost would win re-election in the November 2018 general election.
“Brendan Kelly is clearly already out of step with the 12th District — before he’s even announced. President Trump won the District by double digits, and Kelly’s first move is to call him a ‘blowhard,’” Anderson said. “The people of the 12th District are interested in serious representation, which is why they elected Congressman Bost by the same margin and will do so again in 2018.”
Andrew Theising, associate professor of political science at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, said Kelly may be an attractive candidate to Republican-leaning voters, in a district that has trended Republican in recent years, especially as Kelly is the top law enforcement official in St. Clair County.
Kelly could portray himself as the law-and-order candidate, Theising said.
“Many conservatives find that appealing,” Theising said. “He has the potential to reach into Bost’s base. He could be a formidable candidate if he were to run.”
The 12th District, which covers southwestern Illinois, stretches from Alton south to the Kentucky border. It includes all of St. Clair County. Cities in the district include Marion and Carbondale.