BLOOMINGTON — Six Republicans seeking to replace U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson on the 13th Congressional District ballot this fall avoided criticizing each other in a forum Monday, but they were less kind to former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Pelosi was the foil for the six men — state Rep. Dan Brady of Bloomington; former state Rep. Mike Tate of Springfield; state Sen. Kyle McCarter of Lebanon; Rodney Davis of Taylorville, an aide to U.S. Rep. John Shimkus; Jerry Clarke, a top aide to U.S. Rep. Randy Hultgren; and Bloomington businessman David Blumenshine — who hope to be chosen by GOP county chairmen as the replacement for Johnson. He announced 10 days ago that he would not run for a seventh term.
"Dr. (David) Gill, who is the Democrat nominee in this district, I know him very well," said Clarke, formerly the chief of staff for Johnson. "I ran Tim Johnson's campaigns against him. He's run against Tim three times so I know Dr. Gill and I know the district. I'd like to beat Dr. Gill a fourth time to make sure that Nancy Pelosi doesn't become speaker again."
"We know Nancy Pelosi and the national Democrats want to recover the House and they don't care where they get the seats," Brady said. "The Democratic National Committee will pour money into any district where a glimmer of hope exists and of course that includes the 13th."
"Overnight the 13th Congressional District became a target on the pathway to Nancy Pelosi returning to power," Davis said. "We've seen the damage that Democrats can cause this country and this is a race that we cannot lose."
The six men spoke to about 100 people at a luncheon meeting sponsored by the McLean County Republican Party. Two others who had been invited did not show. Rep. Adam Brown, R-Decatur, has withdrawn from the process and Sen. Sam McCann, R-Carlinville, was speaking at a tea party event, said McLean County Republican chairman John Parrott.
Parrott said the hour-long forum helped "narrow the field in my mind, but that's all the further it's going to go."
He declined to say which of the candidates he had eliminated from consideration but said, "I think there's probably three or four that look pretty solid out of this presentation today."
Habeeb Habeeb, the treasurer of the Champaign County Republican Party, attended the event and agreed.
"I think there are three or four who are solid contenders," he said. Habeeb called Clarke, who lives in Urbana, "the hometown guy. I'm on the record as saying that this seat is really important to Champaign County. I owe it to the people of Champaign County to be representing them."
Parrott said the 14 county chairmen in the congressional district may wait another month before choosing the party's nominee.
"I really would like to see us take our time and not make a hasty decision on this," Parrott said. "We really need to vet. Right now we've heard their resume, their experience, but now I think that we as county chairmen have to do our homework and make sure we ask the tough questions and try to find out all that we can. There's always a surprise someplace that we have not heard about. I think we have a responsibility to do that."