Tom Kacich: Incumbent faces fine line before '14 election

Good thing that U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, is young and in good shape. He's going to have to show a lot of flexibility in the next year.

A survey last week by the Democratic-leaning pollster Public Policy Polling found that Republicans in Davis' 13th Congressional District like the federal government shutdown (55 percent to 34 percent) and like the tea party (66 percent to 22 percent). No surprise there; the supposedly more Republican-leaning Rasmussen Reports poll said that 71 percent of Republicans nationally favor the shutdown.

But Democrats and independents in the 13th District oppose the shutdown and have an unfavorable opinion of the tea party, according to Public Policy Polling. Rasmussen agreed that Democrats nationally oppose the shutdown, but that independents are evenly split, well within the poll's margin of error.

The problem for Davis is that because he has a legitimate Republican primary election opponent (Urbana attorney Erika Harold), he can't stray far from his GOP base for the next six months. But then after the March primary (if he wins), Davis has to appeal to the Democrats and independents that make up about half of the voters in the very competitive congressional district that arcs across central and southwestern Illinois.

And he has to do that while facing a legitimate Democratic opponent, probably the well-funded and party-backed Ann Callis, a former Madison County judge.

In the ongoing shutdown/Obamacare/budget commotion, Davis has been a loyal GOP soldier, toeing the party line on every one of the 35 or so budget and appropriations related roll calls since Sept. 28.

But he's been somewhat coy about whether he'd be willing to break the deadlock and vote with Democrats for a so-called "clean" funding bill that would eliminate any reference to delaying or defunding Obamacare. A story in the online Huffington Post counted Davis among 23 House Republicans who would vote for a clean continuing resolution. Davis spokesman Andrew Flach has not denied the report, saying only that Davis is "reserving judgment until he actually has a chance to vote on" a clean funding bill.

It's another indication of the fine line Davis has to walk for the next year.

"It's a tough one because he's in this district that is as a swing as any of them these days," said Chris Mooney, director of the University of Illinois' Institute of Government and Public Affairs. "It will depend on how tough his primary challenge is."

But Davis "is casting his lot with the House Republicans now and he's got to be nervous about how all of this government shutdown, credit crisis is going to play out," Mooney said. "He knows that Callis is going to be a significant challenge and that there's going to be money. She's been recruited by the party. She ostensibly is going to be a good candidate. She's already come out swinging."

Mooney said statewide Republican candidates in Illinois regularly have to go right in primary elections, then shift to the center for the general election.

"They have that exact dynamic going on," Mooney said. "Look at what happened for governor last time. (Bill) Brady comes up with it by running hard right and then he's got to realign for the general election. The problem is if you've got an opponent who will call you out on it and say you're a flip-flopper and you can't trust him."

And Callis, Mooney believes, "has all the earmarks of a very formidable opponent for him. Whether she can win or not is another question. But she's got the money, she's got the skill, she's got the time."

But former Illinois Republican Party Chairman Pat Brady, a longtime friend and ally of Davis, isn't worried.

"In Rodney's case and probably this applies to a lot of congressional districts, the best thing any elected official can do is focus on the constituent service. Be there, listen to people and do what they elected you to do. If he does that he'll be fine," said Brady. "Rodney's been a great congressperson and most of the people know him and like him and know how hard he works. He'll just keep doing what he's doing and he'll be fine.

"The last thing anybody wants is somebody who blows in the wind. You want somebody who stands for something."

Feinen campaign money. Champaign City Council Member Deborah Frank Feinen has a nice start in the April 2015 campaign for mayor.

In her quarterly campaign contribution statement filed Tuesday, Feinen reported raising $4,020 between July 1 and Sept. 30. She now has $7,601 in her campaign fund, the greatest sum she's had since March 2007, when she was elected to her first at-large term on the council. She spent more than $15,000 on that race, finishing second of six candidates for three seats.

Feinen had $2,880 in itemized contributions during the three-month period, including $500 from Jeffrey and Michael Hartman of JSM Management in Champaign, and $350 from Champaign developer Newt Dodds.

In his latest campaign report, filed June 30, Mayor Don Gerard reported having $7,015 on hand. He also has said he will run for mayor again.

Piland in the news. Longtime Champaign County residents will recall the name John Piland, who was the county's last Republican state's attorney, serving from March 1995 to December 2004. Following his loss to Democrat Julia Rietz, Piland moved to Texas and is now with the Johnston Legal Group in Fort Worth.

On Tuesday, his son, David, a quarterback at the University of Houston, announced that he was ending his football playing career after enduring multiple concussions, the most recent on Sept. 7 against Temple.

Tom Kacich is a News-Gazette editor and columnist. His column appears on Wednesdays and Sundays. He can be reached at 351-5221 or at tkacich@news-gazette.com.

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