Rick Watson, the St. Clair County sheriff, announced Thursday morning he won’t seek the Democratic nomination to run for the 12th U.S. House seat, even as a national Democractic party official was critical of another candidate in the race.
The 12th U.S. House District covers Madison, St. Clair and ten other counties in the southernmost part of Illinois.
Watson emailed a letter to media outlets in which he underscored his loyalty to county voters and to his job as sheriff.
“The citizens of St. Clair County elected me to be their Sheriff, and my loyalty to the citizens of St. Clair County is greater than the honor of running for the 12th Congressional seat,” Watson wrote in his letter.
Personal injury attorney C.J. Baricevic, 30, of Belleville, is so far the only Democrat to enter the March 15 primary. The winner of that primary will face freshman incumbent Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, in the November 2016 general election.
But the national Democratic Party, which tried hard to recruit Watson to join the race, is apparently unhappy that Baricevic — the son of John Baricevic, the St. Clair County chief judge and St. Clair County Democratic Party leader — remains in the race.
Brian Smoot, a political consultant who in 2010 served as director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee’s Independent Expenditure program, questioned Baricevic’s ability to beat Bost in the November general election.
“I just would say that this is not the type of candidate that DCCC would be interested in,” said Smoot, who in the 2008 cycle served as that group’s political director. “I can’t speak for the DCCC. But I can say he doesn’t reach a certain threshold as a credible candidate.”
In his letter, Watson noted how last week he flew out to Washington, D.C. to meet with members of the House Democratic caucus and representatives of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
“The visit was a great experience and I left with an unconditional respect for the men and woman who serve in Congress,” Watson wrote.
The sheriff concluded his letter by noting that now the he understands “the process of running for Congress, I have decided not to run. I will support the party candidate who will dedicate (themselves to the office) and serve with distinction, the men and woman of the 12th Congressional District.”
As for Baricevic’s candidacy, Smoot noted that he raised about $85,000 over the last four months.
“Not good,” Smoot said. “It’s an interesting question. What’s a credible amount? But I can tell you that $85,000 is definitely not credible.”
In contrast, Bost reported raising $733,684 between Jan. 1 and June 30, and spending $194,013, with $566,965 cash on hand, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission.
“All I can tell you is what I can see,” Smoot said. “And $85,000 doesn’t cut it.”
Baricevic did not immediately return calls seeking comment. Nor did attorney Robert Jones, a Baricevic campaign spokesman.
Meanwhile, the Republican National Campaign Committee performed a virtual end zone dance upon the news that Watson declined to enter the March Demcoratic primary.
“With yet another potential candidate slamming the door in the DCCC’s face, Democrats’ hopes of landing a serious recruit in the 12th District are getting slimmer by the day,” wrote RNCC spokesman Zach Hunter in an emailed statement. “While national Democrats scramble to find someone, anyone, of substance to run, Mike Bost will continue his tireless efforts to expand opportunity for 12th District families and get Southern Illinoisans back to work.”
Contact reporter Mike Fitzgerald at firstname.lastname@example.org or 618-239-2533.