With less than a week to go before final ballots are cast in the 2018 election, former Vice President Joe Biden sought to provide a boost to the Brendan Kelly campaign for Congress by campaigning inside a hall of the type of organization that has traditionally backed Democrats.
The packed crowd amounted to roughly 800 people at the Iron Workers Union Hall, according to the Kelly campaign.
Biden’s visit comes four days after President Donald Trump campaigned for U.S. Rep. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, who is seeking re-election. Also in the race is Green Party candidate Randy Auxier.
Biden opened his remarks by speaking about recent violent events including a mass shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, bombs sent by mail to critics of President Donald Trump, and the shooting of two black people allegedly carried out by a white supremacist in Louisville.
“We need to recognize that words matter,” Biden said. “Our political opponents are not our enemies, they’re our opponents. The press is not our enemies. Before we’re Democrats and Republicans, we’re Americans. We as a nation are so much better than this.”
The former vice president sought to energize traditionally loyal Democratic voters, union workers, to come out and vote for Kelly as well as J.B. Pritzker, the Democratic nominee for governor and Julianna Stratton, the Democratic lieutenant governor nominee.
“Labor, they built the middle class,” Biden said. “They also are the only one who benefited every American worker. Does anybody think there would be a 40 hour week if not for labor? …. Overtime pay, weekends off, the list goes on. Nonunion workers only have these rights because of the sacrifices of people like the people in this building.”
Biden praised Kelly for his work as a prosecutor. Kelly is the Democratic state’s attorney for St. Clair County.
Kelly established the St. Clair County Juvenile Justice Council and the Children’s Justice Bureau, increasing prosecution of crimes against children and working to keep kids from becoming felons.
“It’s’ all about character, more than anything else. Brendan, and Juliana and J.B. have that character,” Biden said. “This election is bigger than any ordinary politics.”
Biden criticized Republican candidates, saying their main goal is to protect the president.
“Lately it seems as though many of our Republican colleagues are spending more time protecting the president than they are protecting the constitution,” Biden said. “They’re choosing party over country.”
Kelly spoke to the crowd of organized laborers, veterans and their families about rising costs and stagnating wages.
“(People) see the stock market going up, but cost of health care is going up, the cable bill is going up ... but what’s not going up is wages,” Kelly said.
Kelly also criticized a GOP tax bill passed last year, saying tax breaks went to the wealthiest Americans and threaten Social Security and Medicare.
Biden said unions are important to the county, adding that the middle class has been “clobbered.”
“When the middle class does well, the upper class does really well and the lower class has a way up,” Biden said.
Pritzker also spoke in favor of workers. He said Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner has tried to reduce wages and workplace safety.
“We’re going to ban three words in the dictionary in Illinois: ‘Right to work,’” Pritzker said.
Among those in the crowd was John LePere, 51, who lives near Troy. He came to support Brendan Kelly even though he lives in the 15th district.
“He’s labor friendly,” said LePere, who works as a business manager for a sheet metal workers union.
He also said he supports Pritzker in the governor’s race.
“Rauner is wrong for working families and working people,” LePere said.
“We fight for prevailing wage for every working person. If it weren’t for union people, non union people wouldn’t have the wage they have,” LePere said.
Amanda Lewis, 73 and Jon Lewis, 79, of Columbia, wore their “Kelly for Congress” stickers as they waited for the Biden speech to begin.
“(Kelly) represents the values of the 12th district, more than Bost does,” Jon Lewis said. “Kelly understands how things work. Bost won’t even conduct open press conferences. He won’t conduct open town hall meetings. Kelly will respond to anything, whereas Bost will only respond to things that matter to him.”
The Lewis couple, both retired school administrators, attended both inaugurations for President Barack Obama and Biden.
“We have a lot of respect for Joe. He’s for the working man and woman. He has the values we want to see in a leader,” Amanda Lewis said.
Most polls had the race between Bost and Kelly within the margin of error, with the Republican incumbent leading his Democratic challenger by one point. However, the most recent New York Times poll had Bost leading by nine percentage points.
“It’s great to have all the support we possibly can, from all over the place, including people like the vice president,” Kelly said of Biden’s visit. “In the end this will be up to the people in southern Illinois. And frankly I prefer to be in a scrappy fight all the way to the finish.”
Parties in control tend to lose seats during a midterm election.
The Bost campaign issued a statement shortly before Biden took the stage on Wednesday.
“Brendan Kelly’s failing campaign is limping through the final stretch,” said Bost spokesman George O’Connor. “He’s quietly relied on Nancy Pelosi and her liberal allies for funding. Now he’s digging deep into the National Democratic bench to turn out the vote because his party’s current leaders are completely out of step with southern Illinois.”
As Democrats looked to take control of the House of Representatives during the midterm elections, the Illinois 12th became one of those races that garnered a lot of attention in the country and attracted big names to the district.
In addition to Trump campaigning for Bost, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue held a town hall with the congressman on farming issues. Vice President Mike Pence and Speaker Paul Ryan also headlined fundraisers for Bost.
John Lewis, a Democratic congressman, and a civil rights icon, came to East St. Louis to participate in a get out the vote rally for Kelly.
Reporter Joseph Bustos is of no relation to the congresswoman.