URBANA — Formally kicking off his campaign for Congress, Democrat David Gill said Monday that U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson, R-Urbana, is "a follower" whose "view of the world shifts with the winds of political polling."
Gill, an emergency-room physician from Bloomington, is the only Democrat who has announced that he will seek the Democratic nomination in the newly created 13th Congressional District that extends from Champaign-Urbana southwest to the Illinois suburbs of St. Louis.
Johnson already has begun campaigning in the new district, and another Republican, Springfield truck driver Samuel Spradlin, said he also is a candidate.
Gill — who has run against Johnson on three other occasions and lost, the most recent time in November 2010 — said he's more optimistic this time because the new district is more Democratic.
"I can't express how excited I am about running for Congress one more time. Illinois 15 was difficult to say the least," he told a group of about 35 supporters Monday morning at the Urbana Steak n' Shake restaurant. "But Illinois 13 is a whole different animal, unlike anything I've run in before."
Over the last 20 years in presidential election years, Gill said, Democratic congressional candidates have received at least 48 percent of the vote from precincts in the new district.
"And that's your standard Democrat," he added, "I pride myself on not being a career politician, not toeing any dogmatic line that is supposed to be toed."
Gill said that he "did 5, 10, 20 percentage points better" that well-funded Democratic candidates, including Gov. Pat Quinn and Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias last year.
In fact, in Champaign County Gill ran 5 percentage points ahead of Quinn and 6 points ahead of Giannoulias. In Vermilion County, he ran 11 percentage points ahead of Quinn and 12 ahead of Giannoulias. In Iroquois County, however, his numbers were as poor as Quinn's and Giannoulias'.
The new 13th District includes all of Decatur ("I've longed to have all of Decatur for a long time," Gill said), plus Springfield, and most of Bloomington-Normal. It also includes Democratic areas in Madison County.
Gill signaled that if he wins the nomination he will hit Johnson on economic and environmental issues.
"Mr. Johnson voted to tear apart Medicare as we know it," he said. "That's Paul Ryan's and the Republicans' solutions to America's woes. But people won't buy it. People are not buying it.
"I've long stood for a far better health care system than we have now. To think that you can solve economic woes by tearing up Medicare, (Johnson is) out of touch with reality. He's been walking circles at Lincoln Square for far too long," Gill said of Johnson's frequent walks in downtown Urbana. "I'm a believer in expanding Medicare and improving Medicare."
Gill said he would oppose any cuts in Medicare as part of negotiations over increasing the U.S. debt limit. He might be open to cuts in Social Security, he said.
"No, certainly not to Medicare," he said. "Social Security, I would be amenable to talking. I think it's unwise to not recognize that people's lifespans are significantly longer than they were when FDR initiated that program."
Raising taxes must be part of the debt ceiling negotiations, Gill said.
"I think you've got to talk about raising revenues," he said. "I think you have to go back to one of Tim Johnson's early acts, that was tax cuts that have been tremendously beneficial for the richest 1 percent of this country but have left the rest of us treading water or falling under water."
Gill insisted that Johnson is a follower, not a leader, in Congress.
"When war was popular, he was all about war. When peace became popular he was for peace among the lands," Gill said. "When there was no concern about deficits, he helped to turn the greatest surplus in this country's history into the greatest deficit in this country's history in a very brief number of years. And when deficit hawking became popular he was all about deficit hawking. He follows and follows and follows."
Gill said the premier issue facing the United States is climate change.
Johnson's "view of the world shifts with the winds of political polling," the Democrat said. "We can't afford that for many reasons. The most important is that he's going to realize that when he sticks his finger into the wind and comes to the conclusion that we need to preserve our land and water in this world, it's going to be too late. There are a lot of people who believe it's too late already, that we have already passed the tipping point when it comes to global climate change.
"I can't think of an issue that's more important. All of this other stuff will become moot."