Tom Kacich | 13th District race could be rematch of '18 election

Tom Kacich | 13th District race could be rematch of '18 election

The 2020 election in Illinois' 13th Congressional District, which includes Champaign-Urbana and much of central Illinois down to the Illinois suburbs of St. Louis, already is looking like the 2018 election.

So far, only Republican incumbent Rodney Davis and his 2018 challenger, Springfield Democrat Betsy Londrigan, are raising money and acting like candidates. Londrigan already has announced that she's running again. Davis hasn't said anything official, but he brought in more than a half-million dollars in campaign contributions in the first three months of 2019, and his political operation has been sending out regular appeals for money and attacks on "Leftwing Betsy Londrigan" and "her boss J.B. Pritzker."

Davis, meanwhile, publicly preaches about the need for bipartisanship and civility in politics — the same sort of deception he employed in 2018 against Londrigan.

The deja vu doesn't apply just to Davis. Londrigan already has made clear that her primary message will be about health care, as it was last year, and she's been endorsed by Emily's List, the pro-choice group that was a big contributor to her campaign in 2018.

"Voters across our nation sent a clear message last November that they want leaders in Washington who will stand by their side and fight to ensure that middle-class families have access to quality, affordable health care," Londrigan said in making her announcement in April.

And last week, Emily's List — which gave Londrigan more than $85,000 in the 2018 election cycle — said it was backing her again and had made Davis one of its top political targets in 2020.

"Republican Rodney Davis continuously puts his party's dangerous agenda — from their bill to strip health care from millions of hardworking Americans to their movement to defund Planned Parenthood — ahead of the needs of the working families he was elected to serve," Emily's List President Stephanie Schriock said in a statement.

It's possible other Democrats could jump into the 13th District race. Davis certainly hopes so, if for nothing more than to force Londrigan to spend money on a primary race and to rough her up before the general election. But if any other Democrats are going to run, they need to move quickly. Two years ago at this point there already were two Democrats in the race with two more joining in July.

The congressman is embracing President Trump more than he did last year and certainly more than in 2016 when Davis rescinded his support a month before the election and said he hoped that Trump would withdraw from the race, all over the infamous Billy Bush audio tapes where Trump made vulgar comments about women.

Last week in an interview with Dave Gentry on WDWS, Davis defended Trump after the Wall Street Journal reported that military officials tried to keep the USS John McCain — named for the father and grandfather of Trump's greatest Republican foe — from the president's view while he was on a trip to Japan.

"It's sad," said Davis. "It doesn't matter what this president does. We've got a great economy. We've got great jobs. Unemployment is at historic lows. We've reformed our tax for the first time in 30 years, getting things done. And this is what the 24-hour news cycle wants to talk about. It's crazy."

Although Trump is unpopular in this part of Davis' district (he got 36.4 percent in Champaign County in 2016), the president did much better in every other county in the 13th District, grabbing more than two-thirds of the vote in six of the 14 counties in the district. So in a marriage of political convenience, Davis apparently will stick with Trump, forfeiting vote-rich Champaign County (with more than 65,000 of the 315,000 votes in the district in 2016) in favor of aligning himself with Trump in the rest of the district.

But no matter who wins the 13th District race in 2020, the victory will be fleeting. Redistricting will change the face of the district in 2022 and it's possible that Democrats — who will draw new congressional maps — will put Davis and another Republican (or two) in the same district, or they'll take Champaign County out of Davis' district.

Tom Kacich's column appears every Sunday in The News-Gazette. He can be reached at kacich@news-gazette.com.

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