The fierce battle for a congressional district that includes part of Madison County is heating up again, 15 months before the next general election.
Illinois’ 13th Congressional District, represented by Republican U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, has been targeted by the national Democratic Party to flip in 2020. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in news releases painted Davis as someone who puts special interests ahead of the health of Illinois families.
The likely challenger again will be Democrat Betsy Dirksen Londrigan, of Springfield, who came up short in the 2018 general election. She’s been labeled as being a “socialist” in news releases put out by the National Republican Congressional Committee.
The last race was decided by less than 1 percentage point in 2018.
The far-reaching district stretches from the metro-east to Champaign-Urbana and includes parts of Glen Carbon and Edwardsville.
But when redistricting takes place after the 2020 Census, political maneuvering may come into play and could possibly stretch the district south to include parts of St. Clair County.
Political tracking in the 13th District
On a recent morning, Davis met with constituents during an open office hours event at the Godfrey Village Hall to discuss issues or offer assistance with federal programs.
While some people met with staff members, Davis answered questions from several constituents.
During the hour-long Q&A session, a person who identified himself only as “Aaron” videoed the exchange. Davis’ office determined Aaron was with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, there to track the event, a practice by both major parties to follow what opponents are saying in public.
“Obviously we had someone from my opponent’s campaign sitting here at our open office hours, wouldn’t give their name, wouldn’t talk about who they were filming for,” Davis said. “We let them film and if that shows up as footage in my opponent’s materials or on social media of anyone supporting my opponent, we’re going to know this is typical of what happens in campaigns.”
During a recent conference between Londrigan and reporters, a GOP operative used a fake name and posed as a student journalist for the Alestle, the campus newspaper at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. The operative used the opportunity to ambush Londrigan about her fundraising activities.
Nick Klitzing, the deputy campaign manager for former GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner, told central Illinois TV station WCIA he was volunteering for the Davis campaign when he crashed the call.
Davis said he wasn’t aware of what Klitzing was doing, however he conceded his campaign probably did know. Davis added his campaign would address the situation internally.
“I don’t condone anyone misrepresenting themselves, but I also don’t get what the big deal is when a question was asked. I respond to tough questions all the time,” Davis said. “The buck always stops with me when people in my campaign do something I’m not supportive of. But at some point we’ll have to ask ourselves, when in your career, or in anyone’s career, have you not made a mistake? I’m a member of Congress, because I may have made some mistakes in the past and learned from. And this is going to be a great teachable moment for the people in my campaign that may have made the wrong decision. “
In November, Davis defeated Londrigan by just 2,058 votes. Based on that outcome, she decided to give it another try.
“When you’re a first-time candidate, you’re starting at ground zero. And now we have this grassroots army built. They’re going to go out, they’re going to recruit more people,” Londrigan said in an interview. “We knocked on 300,000 doors (in 2018). We’re going to be able to knock on 500,000 doors. We’re going to be able to build on that foundation and I think that is a real benefit to us. That’s more people to carry our message.”
Even before Londrigan announced in April her second run, the DCCC was on the attack against Davis. The DCCC sent out news releases criticizing Davis’ votes on health care-related bills and other legislation.
The Illinois 13th was one of 33 districts listed by the DCCC in January of this year as part of its initial battlefield for the November 2020 election.
Londrigan outraised Davis during the second quarter of this year, according to campaign finance reports filed with the Federal Elections Commission. Londrigan reported about $468,400 in itemized contributions above $200. Davis reported about $432,700 in itemized contributions.
During the second quarter of the year, 37 percent of Davis’ itemized contributions came from donors from Illinois. Nearly 80 percent of Londrigan’s itemized contributions came from donors in Illinois, FEC data shows.
Londrigan has criticized Davis for taking corporate political action committee money, and how only a third of the money he raised come from individuals.
During the recent conference call with reporters, Londrigan discussed campaign fundraising and her pledge not to take money from corporate PACs.
However the DCCC does take corporate PAC money.
“Democratic Leadership wants to elect Democrats to Congress. I don’t think there’s any gray area there,” Londrigan said. “The part I’m responsible for is what I’m going to do. I’m not accepting a dime of corporate PAC money because I refuse to be beholden to these corporations and special interests.”
Davis countered saying Londrigan takes money from party leadership, which takes money from PACs.
“The hypocrisy that is put forth by my opponent is constantly overwhelming to me and to many,” Davis said. “Someone who stands up and says I don’t want to take corporate PAC dollars, is taking thousands upon thousands upon thousands and hundreds of thousands from people who take the same donations from the same groups that I do. You can’t stand up and criticize somebody else for doing the exact same thing that you’re doing and that’s what she likes to do.”
Holding town halls
Londrigan has attacked Davis for not holding town halls during the 2018 campaign and at the beginning of this campaign cycle.
“He still won’t do town halls and that is something … I personally don’t understand an unwillingness to engage with your constituents on that level,” Londrigan said earlier. “I think it’s a fundamental misunderstanding of the job, because a representative is supposed to represent everybody and that means you talk to and listen to everybody.”
Davis has recently started holding “Open Government Nights,” the first of which was in Decatur with state Rep. Dan Caulkins, R-Decatur. The event was moderated by a local newspaper editor who asked questions that were submitted ahead of the event.
“Open Government Nights will allow people to discuss issues facing our government at the state and federal levels,” Davis said in a news release promoting the event.
Davis followed up his first Open Government Night with the Godfrey office hours event.
“I respond to tough questions all the time,” Davis said. “You just sat here for an hour watching me respond to any question someone brought up here in Godfrey today. That’s what we do when we’re elected officials or when we’re running for office. I certainly hope my opponent is willing to take tough questions like the one that was proposed in her press conference.”
Health care debate
During the 2018 election, health care and access to health insurance was a predominant theme of the campaigns in the 13th District.
The issue will probably be so again.
The DCCC has sent out repeated news releases about Davis’ votes when it comes to health care, including one before his Decatur Open Government Night saying the congressman supported legislation that would have ended protection for coverage of pre-existing conditions and supported a lawsuit aimed at overturning the Affordable Care Act.
“Health care is still an overarching issue on people’s minds, and we still have a congressman in the 13th that votes against protecting people with pre-existing conditions, against lowering the cost of prescription drugs,” Londrigan said. “People are still scared about their health care. That’s something that is the same.”
Davis defended Republican efforts during the recent public appearances.
“We voted to fix our broken health care system in the last Congress,” Davis said. “We fell one vote short of getting that plan that would have lowered premiums and protected pre-existing condition coverage for every American. It was one vote away from getting to the president’s desk.”
Davis recently decried Democrats rejecting an amendment to an appropriations bill that would prevent the administration from using any funds to limit access to coverage for people with pre-existing conditions.
He added 90 percent of Americans have health care coverage, but 60 million people don’t have health care coverage or have health care coverage they can’t afford to use.
“We are in a health care system that is still not serving every American, even at a time where we have historic economic growth, we have historically low unemployment, we have historic access to employer-based health care.” Davis said. “I watched Nancy Pelosi take the speaker’s gavel in January and now it’s ... August, I have yet to see a single plan that we have a chance to vote for on the floor of the House of Representatives from Speaker Pelosi or the House Democrats that’s going to help solve the problem for 60 million Americans in this country.”
Why should St. Clair County be interested?
As northern Madison County gets another dose of the Davis-Londrigan contest, could what is now the 13th District be extended south in the future?
The 13th District was initially drawn in 2011 by the Democratically controlled state legislature to be a toss-up district. Davis has won the seat every election since. He is one of three Republican congressmen in the metro-east, including U.S. Rep. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, in the 12th District, and U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, in the 15th District.
But Illinois elected a Democratic governor in November, and other Democrats at the state and local levels were elected along with J.B. Pritzker. Nationally, Democrats also took control of the U.S. House during the 2018 midterm elections.
“In most districts that were like mine, in a year like 2018, the Democrat won. We were able to beat that,” Davis said.
Whoever wins the 2020 race will probably run in a larger area, if they want to hold onto the district.
Illinois is expected to lose at least one congressional seat after the 2020 Census. In 2021, state legislative and congressional district maps will be redrawn and congressional districts will probably become geographically larger.
One place voters could come from and included into what is now the 13th District is St. Clair County, as the U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled federal judges have no role in settling disputes when it comes to partisan gerrymandering.
The 12th District, which runs from Alton to the Kentucky border in southwestern Illinois, includes the traditionally Democratic St. Clair County. The 12th District isn’t on a list of Republican held seats targeted by Democrats. Bost successfully defended the seat after receiving a tough challenge from former St. Clair County State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly, who is now the acting Illinois State Police director.
“East St. Louis, that’s a waste of Democratic votes. If they can’t beat Bost, in 2018, they’re probably not going to beat him. That was the time to do it. But they didn’t,” said Chris Mooney, a political science professor at the University of Illinois-Chicago.
Mooney added: “The thing with redistricting is, anything could happen. It’s a blank slate.”
The 12th was initially drawn to protect a Democrat, Jerry Costello of Belleville, who has since retired from Congress.
“Ultimately the question is, ‘Are there enough Democrats to try to make the 13th a safe district?’ especially without needing to protect a Democrat in the 12th,” Mooney said.
Downstate Democrats may have to compete with concerns of protecting other Democrats in the state when the next congressional map is drawn. There may be a priority to protect U.S. Rep. Sean Casten, D-Downers Grove, or U.S. Rep. Lauren Underwood, D-Naperville, if they win re-election in the Chicago collar counties.
“The battleground in the state, is and has been for sometime, is the suburbs of Chicago,” Mooney said. “That’s where governors get elected, that’s where (the) difference in the legislature happens. That’s where you get swing voters.
“There’s change downstate, too, but it’s all in one direction. Democrats are leaving, Republicans are getting stronger and stronger, more dominant,” Mooney said. “I don’t know what (Democrats) are going to do, but they have to ask themselves, ‘Are there enough Democrats downstate in a reasonably contiguous area, so it doesn’t look ridiculous?’”
Davis conceded Democratic control could probably further hurt Republican representation in 2022.
“Speculating on what’s going to happen on redistricting is way too premature,” Davis said. “I would say with a Democratic governor, Democratic supermajorities (in the Legislature), I don’t think any Republican is safe in Illinois, and frankly I don’t think any taxpayers are safe with them leading the charge right now.”
Londrigan said no matter if people live in or out of what is now the 13th district, each area has similar issues.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re on one side of Madison County or the other,” Londrigan said. “We’re all downstate. We’re all facing the same issues. When I hear about people who are literally making choices about how they’re going to ration their grocery bill to pay for the prescription drugs that they need, it doesn’t matter what side of Madison County you’re from. Doesn’t matter if you’re from St. Clair County. That issue affects everybody and it crosses every age line, every party line. ... It affects all of us.”