During a recent appearance, St. Clair County State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly spoke about needing the public’s help in unsolved murders in the East St. Louis area. He spoke in front of several members of the media and cameras in order to help get the word out.
After the news conference, Kelly said increasing funding for law enforcement was important.
“I’m not issuing a particular platform today, this is a separate thing, but ... my position has been forever, we need more police officers, we need better trained police officers, and that we cannot be in the position to attract the amount of economic development we need to fulfill the promise of this community without addressing the issue of public safety,” Kelly said.
Kelly is one of three candidates seeking the Democratic nomination in the 12th congressional district in the March primary. The other two candidates are David Bequette, of Columbia, and Charles Koen, of Cairo.
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Incumbent U.S. Rep. Mike Bost, of Murphysboro, and Preston Nelson, of Benton, are seeking the Republican nomination. Randy Auxier, of Murphysboro, is running on the Green Party ticket.
Because of his current job, Kelly has a higher profile and access to the public that make him unique among challengers in Congressional races. But would it give him an advantage over the incumbent that’s not typically seen?
“I don’t think it’s any more of an advantage than what Mike Bost has in terms of being an incumbent. It could be an advantage or disadvantage,” Kelly said. “It all depends on what day you’re talking about.
“The way I’ve done my job as state’s attorney is the way I’m going to continue to do my job. And if there’s opportunities to better serve the public in that capacity, I’m going to do that. Whether it helps my campaign or whether it hurts my campaign, that’s up for the people to decide if there’s any connection there.”
A big part of name recognition comes from doing non-campaign events. When someone is an incumbent, these small events like ribbon cuttings, like graduation events, these are small events that allow a leader to be on the front page of a paper. ... Doing news conferences on certain topics is a way to of establishing issue expertise.
Andrew Theising, political science professor at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville
In 2017, Bost’s office sent out news releases about his work leading the congressional steel caucus including meeting with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, as well as touting efforts to protect seniors, help military veterans and reform national flood insurance, among other things.
George O’Connor, the communications director for Bost, said the second-term congressmen is proud of his work.
“Incumbency is only as strong as your record, and Rep. Bost has a proven record of getting things done for Southern Illinois,” O’Connor said.
“He’s sponsored commonsense bills that have been signed into law to help our steelworkers combat unfair foreign trade practices, to empower our farmers and small business owners, and to ensure our veterans get the quality care they deserve. He’s also done exactly what Southern Illinoisans elected him to do in voting to repeal Obamacare and to provide tax relief for hardworking families and job creators. That’s a record we look forward to sharing.”
Incumbency is only as strong as your record, and Representative Bost has a proven record of getting things done for Southern Illinois. He’s sponsored commonsense bills that have been signed into law to help our steelworkers combat unfair foreign trade practices, to empower our farmers and small business owners and to ensure our veterans get the quality care they deserve. He’s also done exactly what Southern Illinoisans elected him to do in voting to repeal Obamacare and to provide tax relief for hardworking families and job creators. That’s a record we look forward to sharing.
George O’Connor, communications director for U.S. Rep. Mike Bost, R-Murphsyboro
Being the incumbent in a congressional race provides many advantages in an election, such as having name recognition, having a political organization in place, and a financial advantage when it comes to donors, said Andrew Theising, a political science chairman and associate professor at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.
“A big part of name recognition comes from doing noncampaign events,” Theising said. “When someone is an incumbent, these small events like ribbon cuttings, like graduation events, these are small events that allow a leader to be on the front page of a paper. ... Doing news conferences on certain topics is a way of establishing issue expertise.
“Sometimes having these information sessions, though technically not campaigning, can have tremendous effect on the campaign,” Theising said.
Members of Congress have the Franking Privilege, which allows them to send updates to constituents at the federal government’s expense.
“It can’t say vote for the incumbent, but it can feature that picture of the incumbent at the ribbon-cutting ceremony, and feature the incumbent handing out certificates to the elementary school kids,” Theising said. “It sure looks and smells like campaign literature, but legally it isn’t. That is a tremendous advantage of being a sitting member of congress.”
I don’t think it’s any more of an advantage than what Mike Bost has it terms of being an incumbent. It could be an advantage or disadvantage. It all depends on what day you’re talking about. The way I’ve done my job as state’s attorney is the way I’m going to continue to do my job. And if there’s opportunities to better serve the public in that capacity, I’m going to do that. Whether it helps my campaign or whether it hurts my campaign, that’s up for the people to decide if there’s any connection there.
St. Clair County State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly
Theising said because both Bost and Kelly have prominent positions, they both will have high name recognition.
“The name recognition for both candidates would be there, but in the case of Congress, having the ability to print and mail literature to all the constituents, to every household in the district is really powerful,” Theising said. “Kelly’s background does diminish incumbency advantage, but there’s still a lot there for Bost.”
In other congressional races, where other challengers may not have high profile public jobs, they have to work to get attention.
“When I think of challengers trying to get publicity, I think of them showing up at newsworthy events and having lots of press conferences and taking stands on national issues,” Theising said.
There may even be letters to the editors and op-ed pieces written by challengers.
“I could see the challengers trying to do that and try to separate from the other challengers but also offer a clear alternative to the incumbent,” he said. “Pursuing free publicity is always beneficial to challengers.”
A new incumbent
In the 111th district state representative’s race, local Democrats were able to give an incumbency to one of the candidates hoping to win the November election.
State Rep. Monica Bristow, D-Godfrey, was appointed to the seat late last year after former state Rep. Dan Beiser resigned. Beiser had already said he was not seeking re-election.
Bristow said she didn’t know whether being an incumbent for a brief period of time would be an advantage for her.
“I still have got a lot to learn, I’ll have to prove myself in the seat,” Bristow said. “I don’t know if it’s an advantage, (but) I’m glad to be here.”
She said she has dealt with legislative issues before, including in her job with the Riverbend Growth Association.
She said she’s not sure her campaign would be different had she not been appointed to the position.
“The state job and the campaign are two different jobs,” Bristow said. “I’ll represent the people while I’m working in the office, but of course there’s that campaign side of it. I’ll be knocking on doors, as soon as it gets a little bit warmer.”
Mike Babcock, the Republican candidate in the 111th district, criticized the move to appoint Bristow. Babcock, who is the Wood River Township supervisor, wouldn’t say whether he was at a disadvantage now in the race.
“I really don’t know. It could be an advantage,” Babcock said. “I think the people are getting it. I think they’re fed up with politics as usual. Fed up with what’s going on in the state of Illinois.”
The day after Bristow was appointed to replace Beiser, Wood River Township sent out a news release about the adoption of its annual tax levy, which also touted how it had been frozen for the eighth consecutive year.
The release was from the township, and included a picture of Babcock. Babcock said the release was along the vein of other taxing bodies having stories published about their property tax levies.
“I’m not much for patting myself on the back, exposing what I’ve done for personal gain or for public consumption so they all feel good about me. I really don’t like to do that type of stuff. I am running for state representative, and you won’t see that mentioned in that news release,” Babcock said.
“I want people to know that they have a guy here that is trying to get to the next level so he could represent them, so he can balance a budget and at the same time … we are running a government that represents the people.”