Tom Kacich: Davis' GOP challenger realistic on his chances

Tom Kacich: Davis' GOP challenger realistic on his chances

Congressman Rodney Davis has a Republican challenger, although maybe not for long.

Ethan Vandersand, a 37-year-old pharmacist who lives in rural Carrollton, filed petitions to oppose Davis in the 13th Congressional District, but admitted that he is a reluctant candidate.

"I'm not even sure I've got enough signatures to get on the ballot once they invalidate how many they're going to do," Vandersand said from The Medicine Shoppe pharmacy in Jerseyville that he owns with his wife. "I've never gone through this before. It might be premature to do any reporting on this."

He said he collected "around 850" petition signatures. He needs 739 to run, but if his petitions are challenged and a significant number are invalidated, his name won't get on the March 15 primary ballot.

Vandersand said he was called by God to run for Congress.

"I've been kind of interested in this stuff, but honestly, I felt called to do it. A lot of people will say that before they get in, and sometimes people wonder if God is really asking you to do something and then you pray on it," he said. "But this was crystal clear that I was supposed to do this. I don't know where it's headed or what the purpose is or what God's purpose is, but that's really why I'm running."

Vandersand said he has "zero political connections whatsoever," doesn't have a campaign organization and even lacks a website. He said he'll "get that started once I know I'm on the ballot."

"I get it. I'm not delusional. I understand that this is me thinking of it and it's an impossibility," he said. "But I guess that if God were to want me to win — and I'm not so sure that that's his plan — then he'll make things happen. He'll open the right doors. Truth be told, I'm not really clear on that, and what his purpose is for this, what the result's going to be. I'm just continuing until he reveals more to me or I lose or win."

He said God revealed his plan to him, although Vandersand didn't want to be specific.

"I'm not going to get into that. That's a little too personal. It was a powerful experience, I can tell you that," he said. "It's not the heavens opening up and words coming down directly. It's not that clear. He just put it on my heart to do this. I don't know how to explain it. But it's been made really clear.

"I even stopped at one point, and I was happy about that personally. It felt different one day as I was collecting signatures and I thought, 'OK, I can go home and go back to life and get back in that deer stand' — that's usually what I'm doing this time of the year — but then that day, as if he hadn't made it clear to me before, he made it crystal clear that night. I got out collecting signatures again the next day."

Vandersand, who said he voted for Erika Harold, Davis' primary opponent in 2014, said he isn't happy with the incumbent's voting record, and cited a Sept. 30 Planned Parenthood vote in the House.

"It's like a lot of them in Washington. They do these show votes so they can come home and tell us that they did what we asked them to do," Vandersand explained. "He voted for a standalone bill to defund Planned Parenthood. And we all think that's great that he did what most Republicans wanted to do. But then the real conservatives tried to add an amendment to the continuing-resolution bill to defund Planned Parenthood."

Davis voted for the continuing resolution that didn't include defunding Planned Parenthood.

"That's where fight had to occur," Vandersand said. "It's not just one vote. He's got a long history of doing things like that. It's just typical career politician stuff. They're concerned with appearances. They're not concerned with advancing principles."


Now that candidate petitions have been passed and signed and filed with proper election authorities, Illinois politics moves onto the next phase: knockout.

Who can knock election opponents off the March 15 primary election ballot because of some flaw in the candidate petitions?

Trangressions that can invalidate signatures include signing a petition for candidates from two different parties, or not submitting petition sheets that are numbered consecutively.

The knockout phase began as candidate petitions were being filed. It concludes on Monday, the last day to file objections to nomination papers.

You can see the process unfold as election law attorneys or their investigators file requests to view or copy petitions on file at the State Board of Elections.

In the 13th Congressional District race, for example, three people already have filed requests to review the petitions of Decatur Democrat Mark Wicklund. One of them was announced independent candidate David Gill of Bloomington; another was Chicago attorney John Fogarty, who frequently acts on behalf of Republican candidates. The third was another Chicago election attorney, Pericles Abbasi.

Or how about the intriguing Republican primary in the 102nd House District, where Mark Cavers, identified as a "government relations and outreach" staff member with the Bruce Rauner-allied Illinois Opportunity Project, reviewed the petitions of candidates Randy Peterson of Paris and James Acklin of Ogden, but not Brad Halbrook of Shelbyville?

Rauner is backing Halbrook in the three-way GOP primary.

The Mike Madigans

Newcomer Mike Madigan of Urbana, running for the Republican nomination for state senator against Democrat Scott Bennett of Champaign, has no primary election opposition.

But veteran House Speaker Mike Madigan, a Chicago Democrat, does have primary opposition, although perhaps in name only.

No Republicans filed in Madigan's 22nd House District, but three people filed as Democratic opponents to the wily Speaker: Joe Barboza, Jason Gonzales and Grasiela Rodriguez.

They're all real Democrats, according to voting records. None has ever taken a Republican primary ballot. But it will be fun to watch if any of them actually campaign and criticize Madigan, or if they're all on the ballot merely to split the anti-Madigan vote in his southwest side district.

Stake out

After nearly 50 years as the Democratic precinct committeeman in the most Democratic precinct in Champaign County, Bernadine Stake is stepping down.

She will be replaced by attorney Ruth Wyman, who is the only Democratic candidate for committeeman in the Cunningham 10 precinct in central Urbana. She moved into the precinct 5 1/2 years ago, she said.

"This has always been a great Democratic precinct," said Wyman, like Stake a former Urbana City Council member. "We hope to continue the tradition."

Democratic candidates generally get about 85 percent of the vote in Cunningham 10.

Last November, for example, Sen. Dick Durbin got 88 percent over Republican Jim Oberweis, former Gov. Pat Quinn got 85.7 percent over Bruce Rauner, Mike Frerichs got 85 percent in his race for state treasurer over Tom Cross, Ann Callis got 87 percent in the race for Congress over Rep. Rodney Davis, and Democrat Carol Ammons got 83 percent over Kristin Williamson in the race for state representative.

Two years earlier, President Obama got 84.9 percent of the Cunningham 10 votes to 11.4 percent for Mitt Romney.

Tom Kacich is a News-Gazette reporters and columnist. His column appears on Wednesdays and Sundays. He can be reached at 217-351-5221 or at

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