CHAMPAIGN — Not unlike his predecessor in Congress, U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis is moving toward the center and working to portray himself as a moderate on political issues. It's a necessary strategy in his politically divided 13th Congressional District that includes liberal Champaign-Urbana on the northeast end and conservative Macoupin County to the southwest.
For Tuesday night's State of the Union address, for example, the Taylorville Republican plans to sit with Chicago Democratic Rep. Dan Lipinski who, like Davis, is a member of Congress' "No Labels" group that has pledged "to collaborate with one another to seek shared success for America," according to its website.
The 41 No Labels members of the House, Davis said, will wear distinctive orange pins on their lapels. Further, Davis' guest at the State of the Union address is David Hylla, a Madison County Democratic judge, whom Davis described as "an old friend."
And in perhaps the strongest signal of his moderate politics, Davis asserted at last Saturday's Champaign County Republican Lincoln Day luncheon that "compromise is not a bad word."
"I pledge to work with both parties in Washington, and that's not something that's popular to say here at a Republican dinner," Davis added.
Sure enough, the keynote speaker at the luncheon, former U.S. Rep. Allen West, R-Fla., seemed to criticize Davis for being willing to compromise. "When we appease, when we acquiesce, when we accommodate, we lose," West said.
Davis, speaking Monday after touring the Eastern Illinois Foodbank in Urbana, said he was not upset by West's comments.
"I was not offended by what he said when he didn't like my use of the word 'compromise.' The point I was trying to make was that compromise does not mean you compromise your principles," Davis said. "The same with Ronald Reagan. Ronald Reagan got a lot of discussion (Saturday) in Allen's speech. And Ronald Reagan is the epitome of compromise. He didn't lose sight of what his overall goal was, but he was able to govern by compromise in a divided government and was very successful at it. That's the type of compromise I'm talking about."
Davis' work with the No Labels group, also known as the "Problem Solvers," is similar to former U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson's membership in the "Center Aisle Caucus," a group devoted to bipartisanship and civility in the House.
"It's a great group. I think it's indicative of the frustration some of the rank-and-file members of Congress have over the partisanship," David said of the group whose honorary co-chairs are former Gov. Jon Huntsman, a Utah Republican, and Sen. Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat. "There are many Democrats and Republicans like me who have gotten together, we're meeting on a regular basis. We're talking about issues that need to be addressed and we're basically breaking bread together, which I think isn't done enough in Washington."
After just 38 roll call votes during his first several weeks in Congress, it's difficult to say how independent or moderate Davis will be. But he insisted this weekend that "I am not the rabid, right-wing Republican that (Democrats and interest groups) said I was going to be. I have a pretty good voting record that I think talks to the fact that in my campaign I said I would take a balanced, common sense approach on every issue and judge each issue one by one."
Davis' appeal to independents and moderate Democrats is, of course, calculated. He has acknowledged since winning election last November that he expects to be targeted again in 2014 by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and other groups that spent more than $3 million trying to defeat him.
"Champaign is the epicenter right now of the national political climate. You guys haven't been for years. Springfield, Decatur, Taylorville, we are at the epicenter of one of the districts they want to use to take back the House so that the president, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid can have the ability to pass their major agenda items," David said in an interview.
Later in his speech to Republicans, he added, "You're looking at the No. 1 target in the nation for those who don't like our vision for America. Nancy Pelosi, Senator Durbin, Barack Obama want to bring the fight back to Champaign-Urbana once again, but with your help we'll fight and be victorious again in 2014."