Bost, Kelly neck-and-neck with less than a month to go. Will Green Party play spoiler?

With fewer than four weeks to go before Election Day, the race in the Illinois 12th congressional district is only expected to heat up even further.

A poll released by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee showed the race within the margin of error. U.S. Rep. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, was at 42 percent. Democratic challenger and St. Clair County State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly had 41 percent.

The DCCC is excited about the race and views it as a potential pick-up as the Democratic Party hopes for a blue wave to take back the House of Representatives in the midterms elections.

“Being stuck in the low 40s is a scary place to be as an incumbent this close to Election Day,” said Jacob Peters, a DCCC regional spokesman.

The race is close, but there may be one other factor that could effect the outcome: Green Party candidate Randy Auxier, of Murphysboro.

In the DCCC poll, Auxier received 8 percent of the support of those polled, and 8 percent were undecided.

What Auxier’s numbers mean

A New York Times poll in September had Bost leading Kelly 44 percent to 43 percent. But that poll did not include Auxier.

A poll commissioned by End Citizens United this month had the race at 46 percent to 45 percent with Bost leading. It wasn’t immediately clear whether the poll included Auxier.

Bost had previously estimated Auxier would garner 5 percent to 7 percent of the vote, and the Bost campaign said Auxier polling at 8 percent means Kelly should worry about the progressive part of the electorate.

“I think it means that Brendan has to look at his left flank a little bit,” said George O’Connor, a Bost spokesman. “As it gets down to it, you look at what Randy is for, that’s what a lot of the Democratic base is for. He’s running for Medicare for all. Brendan doesn’t like the repeal and replace of Obamacare, but I sure as heck don’t know what he likes. If Randy is pushing Medicare for all, and he’s getting 8 percent, that would be something you have to think about if you’re Brendan Kelly.”

Being a potential spoiler in the race doesn’t phase the Auxier campaign.

Auxier points out that in the DCCC poll, when respondents were given only two choices of Kelly and Bost, Bost led 46 to 44.

“The growing strength of the Greens in every successive election should show the Democrats that there is an unserved, or under-served, constituency in this district that have given up on them,” Auxier said. “I think there are an awful lot of people who would vote for me, who wouldn’t vote for either of the other two.”

“I think whose spoiling it for the Democrats is the Democrats. They chose somebody really quite conservative for their candidate when they should have chosen somebody progressive to get all of this support that comes from the progressive side of the district,” Auxier added.

Auxier campaign manager Sabrina Hardenbergh points out Illinois would not be the Land of Lincoln if not for a third party.

Hardenbergh said Auxier campaign committee members have worked for single-payer health care promotion, cleaner energy issues, and environmental issues for a long time.

“That’s not what Brendan is talking about, he’s kind of maintaining the status quo, or if anything he’s co-opting what we already promoted,” Hardenbergh said.

All three candidates on the Nov. 6 ballot: Green Party nominee Randy Auxier, of Murphsyboro, U.S. Rep. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, and Democratic nominee Brendan Kelly, of Swansea.

Green Party playing spoiler?

The Kelly campaign conceded there is a chance for a spoiler effect from Auxier, but said it will concentrate on issues and worries voters bring up.

“Look — we’re working on building the strongest, most diverse coalition in the history of Southern Illinois. We’re concentrated on bringing people together, no matter their party, to save Southern Illinois,” said Sam Barrett, Kelly’s campaign manager. “The other side wins by dividing, we win by uniting. Are we worried about a spoiler? Sure. But if we focus on the concerns we hear from people all over Southern Illinois — concerns like better healthcare, protecting organized labor, environmental justice and restoring people’s faith in democracy — then I know we can win over anyone, whether they’re blue, green, red or purple.”

The Bost camp isn’t afraid of being affected by the low approval ratings of Gov. Bruce Rauner who is trailing in polls to his Democratic challenger J.B. Pritzker.

“Southern Illinoisans are familiar with Mike Bost and know he has an independent voice,” O’Connor said. “If I were on the other side, I’d be more concerned about being tied to Madigan and Pelosi.”

David Andrew, who has supported Green Party candidates in previous elections and plans to vote for Auxier, said Green Party candidates have not spoiled the elections in the Illinois 12 in the past. Bost won each race over the Democratic candidate by a larger margin.

Andrew said many Green Party supporters are conservative and would be libertarians.

“I do not presume as is commonly thought that a huge majority of our votes are coming from the Democrats,” Andrew said. “I think a majority is, but a lot of them are not.”

He added the polling numbers for Auxier maybe higher than what he winds up receiving on Nov. 6.

“A lot people want to support you, but when the day comes to actually mark the ballot, they can’t do it,” Andrew said.

Closer than the 2016 election

The Illinois 12th race this year is much closer than at a similar point in 2016, when Democrat C.J. Baricevic challenged Bost.

According to a Democratic source with knowledge of the polling data, Bost led Baricevic 52 to 38 percent in a poll taken in early to mid October 2016.

There are some indications that Bost’s chances of holding onto the seat improved.

The Congressional Leadership Fund, a superpac that backs GOP candidates, this week had its own set of polling data.

After the fight over the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, the CLF poll has Bost leading 46 percent to 36 percent. It’s not clear when the poll was taken.

However, with multiple polls showing the 2018 race within a point, the two leading campaigns are prepared to keep repeating their messages through Nov. 6.

O’Connor said a formidable challenge from Kelly is what the Bost campaign planned for.

“We’ve known for sometime and have planned accordingly that this was going to be a tight race. We always assumed this was going to be within the margin of error type of race,” O’Connor said. “We’ve had a plan for quite sometime. We have the resources, we’ve got the message, and we’re going to gear up our ground game. We’re not changing anything, this is exactly what we planned for.”

The race has played out on two main fronts: the metro-east where Kelly has high name recognition as the St. Clair County State’s Attorney, and the southern part of the district, where Bost resides.

Kelly’s camp early in the general election season began advertising in the southern part of the district to increase his name recognition.

But the tight race just means more knocking on doors and aggressive media pushes in both the St. Louis and Paducah-Carbondale-Cape Girardeau markets.

“We know Brendan is well known in St. Clair County. The metro-east (is) kind of his home turf. We know Mike is coming from the south,” O’Connor said. “We know we’re battling on two fronts, as is he. He’s trying to make up ground on Mike down south ... We’re going to continue to be aggressive in both.”

As for the next month, Barrett said Kelly’s philosophy is to talk to anyone, anywhere.

“We’re not going to let up,” Barrett said. “We’ve held 12 town halls (while Bost has held zero) and spent considerable time having conversations with people that might not agree with us. But we’ve found that if you listen, spill your heart, and look people in the eye, Southern Illinoisans will respect you more than if you just agreed on 100 percent the issues but didn’t have the tough talks.”

Upcoming debate

In addition to knocking on doors and more television and digital ads, there are two debates scheduled both featuring a panel of journalists asking questions: One at Lindenwood University-Belleville in front of an audience on Oct. 16, and one on Oct. 23 in a television studio.

All three candidates in the 12th District have been invited to participate.

Bost has said he does not plan to attend the Oct. 16 debate. His campaign cited a scheduling conflict as well as its objection to the audience because it is concerned about potential disruptions.

“He is seeing off an Honor Flight for veterans — which is a special and important experience for veterans — but he will be able to make the 10/23 debate just one week later,” said Maddie Anderson, a spokeswoman for the National Republican Congressional Committee. “Mike Bost has never shied away from talking about issues.”

To attend

Want to hear Illinois 12th District candidates speak and answer questions? The Belleville News-Democrat, Southern Illinoisan, WSIU and the St. Clair County League of Women Voters are sponsoring the debate at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Lindenwood University-Belleville.

Tickets are free and can be picked up at:

  • Lindenwood University-Belleville Main Office at 2600 W. Main St. from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.,

  • Delta Economic Development Center at 1012 S. 15th St. in East St. Louis from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and

  • The Belleville News-Democrat at 120 S. Illinois St. in Belleville from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Joseph Bustos: 618-239-2451, @JoeBReporter