The next test of Donald Trump‘s endorsement power comes in Illinois, where he has gone all out for a congressional newcomer in a district deliberately designed to tilt in favor of an established House Republican.
Tuesday’s primary will kick either freshman Rep. Mary Miller or five-term Rep. Rodney Davis out of Congress. Because of redistricting, they’re running against each other for the GOP nomination to represent the state’s 15th District.
Davis’s seniority provides some advantages. His campaign has dominated in the money chase, and as the ranking member of the House Administration Committee, he’d be in line to become chairman if Republicans retake the majority.
Miller has Trump. He did a fund-raiser for her and starred at her June 25 rally.
“With Mary you get to elect a fearless America First patriot,” he said, praising the “Make America Great Again” superfan as “pro MAGA all the way”.
“My friends, this race is between MAGA and a RINO establishment member, ” said Miller, using shorthand for “Republican in name only”.
“If Mary Miller wins, Trump will be the game changer. I think he could bring out thousands of votes in the primary,” said Ben Stratemeyer, GOP chairman for downstate Marion County, who hasn’t endorsed either candidate.
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Davis has been reminding constituents he was co-chair of Trump’s 2020 Illinois presidential campaign committee and voted for big bills that Trump signed into law.
“I’m not going to run away from my record as being the only person in this race who actually helped President Trump and his administration draft the Trump tax-cut bill,” Davis said in an interview, referring to a measure (P.L. 115-97) that temporarily lowered most tax rates.
Davis described himself as a conservative, anti-abortion, gun-rights candidate.
In Congress, he has introduced proposals for rural manufacturing forgivable loan programs, small-business tax cuts, more money for small community transit projects, federal subsidies for hiring municipal police officers, and grants to parents whose kids couldn’t attend in-person educational instruction during the worst moments of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Heading toward this election year, Illinois Democrats were worried that Davis might run for governor. They drew a new congressional district map with a Republican-friendly district on his turf, hoping it would help motivate Davis to skip a gubernatorial run.
It worked. He’s running for re-election in a district that includes the suburbs of Springfield, Decatur, and Champaign, where TV viewers have seen Davis’s ads for a decade.
Those voters also might be nudged in Davis’s direction by his many endorsements, including the US Chamber of Commerce, local law enforcement groups, the Illinois Farm Bureau, federal and state lawmakers, and established GOP county and community leaders.
As of June 8, Davis raised $3.5 million compared with Miller’s $1.5 million, according to Federal Election Commission filings. Outside groups also have been spending millions to try to influence primary voters.
Davis said he’s confident he’ll be re-elected. “I’ve represented a district now for nine and half years that was drawn to elect a Democrat. And we’ve won it—there have been some frustrations in there—but we’ve won it every single time,” he said.
A check of legislation Miller has introduced reflects the agenda of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, of which she’s a member. Miller-sponsored bills would prohibit federal funds from being disbursed to public schools requiring students to wear face masks during the Covid-19 pandemic, provide protections to members of the armed forces who refuse to get vaccinated against the pandemic, and limit the use of school locker rooms and bathrooms to a person’s sex assigned at birth.
One of Miller’s first votes in Congress was to nullify Electoral College votes from Arizona and Pennsylvania following the 2020 presidential election. Davis voted the other way.
Her campaign didn’t respond to numerous requests for comment for this article.
Though majority Democrats in the legislature devised the 15th District with Davis in mind, packing in more GOP voters means more potential turnout for this contested primary — and no way to know whether people who put a lot of trust in Chamber of Commerce recommendations will be outnumbered by those inclined to take Trump’s word for who deserves a vote.
Another wild card: How voters will react to Miller saying while onstage with Trump that the Supreme Court decision on abortion was “a victory for White life,” which got a lot of attention by national news outlets.
Overall, the new district is “a good fit for Mary Miller in the sense that it’s a much more conservative district than Rodney Davis’ current district,” said consultant Frank Calabrese, who was hired by the Chicago City Council Latino Caucus to help redraw council district lines last year.
“However, Rodney Davis has been running for the past decade in the media markets for the new 15th District with the exception of one area,” Calabrese said. “He’s been a tier-one target for his whole congressional career. And he always wins.”
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