With Shimkus not running, which notable GOP names will enter the 15th district race?

With U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, not running in the 2020 election, jockeying for who will enter the race to replace the 12-term congressman in the 15th Congressional District has begun.

But who on the Republican side could possibly get into the race in the heavily GOP district that represents all or parts of 33 counties, including Collinsville, but mostly covers southeastern Illinois to the Kentucky and Indiana borders?

So far only one Republican has formally started a campaign in the heavily GOP district: Alex Walker of Mattoon.

On the Democratic side, John W. Hursey Jr. of Collinsville, and Kevin Gaither of Charleston, who lost to Shimkus in 2018, are planning to run.

But two previous statewide Republican candidates being bantered about entering the fray are Erika Harold of Urbana and state Sen. Jason Plummer of Edwardsville.

Plummer ran for lieutenant governor in 2010 and for Congress in the 12th District in 2012, winning the party’s nomination each time, but losing in the general election.

Harold, the 2018 Republican Illinois attorney general nominee, and 2003 Miss America, is being pushed to make a run. Harold also ran for Congress in the 13th district in 2014, but lost to U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorvillem in the primary.

Harold did not respond to requests for comment.

Plummer weighs run

Plummer said in an interview he is considering a run.

“I’ve gotten a lot of phone calls about it from local folks, folks from all over Southern Illinois and folks in D.C. I think that’s a big decision, and it’s something I’m taking a very hard look at,” Plummer said.

Plummer, who is vice president of RP Lumber and has a 13-month-old daughter with his wife, Shannon, has to weigh being a congressman with his life in Illinois.

“Fortunately from a family perspective, everyone is really supportive,” Plummer said. “At the end of the day it’s why are you involved in politics. Are you involved in politics because it’s a job, or are you involved because you want to see your name on the front page of the Belleville News-Democrat, which I know you know is not true for me, or are you involved because you really care about public policy and you care about Illinois? And I care about Illinois.

“I think what’s happened to downstate Illinois is immoral, and how can you have the biggest impact,” Plummer said. “I’ve worked hard in Springfield in a bipartisan way to pass some good legislation, but I’ve worked hard to build relationships, so as time goes on, we can get very consequential legislation passed that can help downstate Illinois. The question is can you have better impact on downstate Illinois through the (state) Senate seat or the congressional seat? That’s the important thing you have to weigh.”

Plummer said he’s not concerned about how redistricting at both the state and federal level after the 2020 Census could affect his state Senate district or what is now the 15th Congressional District.

“You could only make decisions in life with the information you have on hand,” Plummer said. “No one knows what that’s going to look like, and that’s not a concern of mine.”

Madison County Board Chairman Kurt Prenzler. BND file photo

The National Republican Congressional Committee said it does not plan to weigh in on the primary race.

“The NRCC does not get involved in primaries, but IL-15 is the most Republican district in the state and this seat will remain in Republican hands,” said Carly Atchison, a spokeswoman for the NRCC.

Madison County Board Chairman Kurt Prenzler, a Republican, also said he is looking at running for the seat.

“Some people have reached out to me, but I don’t want to comment beyond that,” said Prenzler, who added he was surprised by Shimkus’ decision not to run.

Prenzler hasn’t made a decision on whether he would seek another term for county board chairman. That office also is up for election in 2020.

Chris Guy Provided

Republican Madison County Board Member Chris Guy said he is considering a run for Shimkus’ seat.

Guy, whose term on the county board runs through 2022, said he has no immediate timeline on when he’ll make a decision.

He said that because the district is so large, it would require a lot of time away from family and friends.

“It’s definitely a big decision to consider,” Guy said. “There’s still quite a bit of time. I still think there will be a number of candidates throwing their hat in the ring.”

Who’s not running?

One name not to expect on the ballot is former state senator and current U.S. Ambassador to Kenya Kyle McCarter, who is from Lebanon. McCarter unsuccessfully challenged Shimkus in the 2016 primary.

McCarter said in a statement released through a former staffer that he would stay in Kenya.

“I am in one of the most challenging, rewarding and meaningful jobs of my life. As much as I truly love the people of Illinois and would be honored to represent them in Congress, my purpose and calling in life right now is to serve President Trump by making the USA the best friend Kenya has ever known,” McCarter said. “I have no intentions of running in the 15th. I hope the representative the people get is bold, honest, selfless and committed to term limits of no more than five two-year terms. May God bless the good people of Illinois.”

State Rep. Mike Marron, R-Fithian on Thursday announced he would not seek the congressional seat. He had formed an exploratory committee for a run in the 15th the day after Labor Day.

“While it truly would be an exciting undertaking and a true honor to serve as your congressman, I have decided that this is not the right time,” Marron said in a statement. “While it wasn’t an easy decision, it is the right decision for me and my family right now. Family is very important to me and will always remain a high priority. That means spending important time with my daughter as she grows, as well as being available to help out on our family farm.”

Marron had not formally raised any money, even though the state representative had secured commitments if he had decided to jump into the congressional race, his campaign manager said.

State Sens. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet and Dale Righter R-Mattoon, were considered possible candidates, but have decided not to run, according to television station WCIA.

Analysis of the district

The congressional seat may not be around after redistricting, especially as Illinois is expected to lose at least one congressional seat after the 2020 census.

Longtime Illinois political observer Kent Redfield said the redistricting conundrum might keep more people from jumping into the race.

“Normally an open seat and a safe Republican seat, people who have progressive ambitions, their goal is not to be a 20-year incumbent in the Illinois General Assembly, or the five-term chairman of the Republican county board somewhere,” Redfield said. “It’s a little surprising that there hasn’t been a lot of names right away. I think the redistricting part is what has given some people pause.”

“The territory (the 15th) holds is probably going to have fewer people than it did 10 years ago and you’re going to need more people in a new district,” Redfield said. “The idea that it would get combined with something involving (U.S. Rep. Mike) Bost or something involving (U.S. Rep. Darin) LaHood, that sounds awfully spread out.”

15th congressional district.jpg
Illinois’ 15th Congressional District Illinois State Board of Elections

Redfield expects the real contest for the 15th District to be the GOP primary, as opposed to the November 2020 general election. Shimkus won the 2018 General Election with nearly 71 percent of the vote.

He said Democrats who will run are those looking to “take one for the team” or looking to build name recognition.

Redfield said he expects the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s priorities to be beating U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, and protecting U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Moline, U.S. Rep. Sean Casten, D-Downers Grove, and U.S. Rep. Lauren Underwood, D-Naperville, who may have tougher races.

As for Plummer and Harold, Redfield said their previous runs show they are eager to be in office.

“Plummer seems to have the money; he’s obviously ambitious,” Redfield said.

Redfield said there may be more pressure on Harold to win the GOP primary if she enters the race.

“Because she lost a congressional race, lost a statewide race, and so, losing too many elections is not a good thing,” Redfield said. “I think people still think she’s a strong candidate ... and she may feel if she wants to stay in the game and on people’s radars, she needs a win.”

Whoever gets into the race would need to gather enough signatures to make the ballot and file with the state Board of Elections between Nov. 25 and Dec. 2 of this year.

Anyone who wants to run in the GOP primary must gather at least 987 valid voter signatures within the district.

Democratic candidates need to collect at least 526 valid voter signatures, according to the state Board of Elections.

The primary election is March 17. The general election is Nov. 3, 2020.


Why did we do this story?

The November 2020 election may be more than a year away, but candidates are starting to organize and begin the process to appear on the ballot. On Sept. 3, candidates were allowed to begin collecting signatures on petitions that are required to appear on the March 17 primary ballot. Official filing of petitions is scheduled from Nov. 25 through Dec. 2. The BND will cover the important steps leading up to the election as part of our role in giving you information that will help you participate in civic life and be a watchdog of the candidates and the election process.

Joseph Bustos is the state affairs and politics reporter for the Belleville News-Democrat, where he strives to hold elected officials accountable and provide context to decisions they make. He has won multiple awards from the Illinois Press Association for coverage of sales tax referenda.