This race is a perfect microcosm of the debate this election will be about. On one side, we have a candidate who has spent his career as part of the political machine. Having spent 16 years working as a congressional aide for climate change denier and Ryan-budget supporter John Shimkus, Rodney Davis is now aiming for a seat beside him. He is getting funding from the Koch brothers and big oil, and he is doing a good job of keeping allegations of his role in a money-laundering scandal out of the news.
On the other side, you have Dr. David Gill, an emergency room doctor who got into politics after seeing the effects of a broken health care system first-hand. Gill is a supporter of single-payer and marriage equality who refuses to take money from corporate PACS. He eked out a primary victory over a conserva-Dem preferred by the DCCC, and now faces a race for this open seat that is expected to be very close.
There's more below the fold.
I first met Dr. Gill in 2004. I was a senior at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and I wanted to make my voice heard to a government that, at the time, was busy invading Iraq, giving away Clinton's budget surplus (and more) to the rich, and passing deregulation that would eventually lead to the Great Recession. As a student, I didn't have much money to donate, so I wanted to make sure that the time I took away from my studies to volunteer would actually make a difference. However, as an Illinois resident in 2004, I could be sure that Kerry would win our electoral votes and that future-President Obama would trounce Alan Keyes for the Senate seat. Dr. Gill was running for office for the first time, and he was facing an uphill battle in a district that was drawn up for easy wins for the GOP incumbent. I know Dr. Gill was certainly a long shot, but he was a good guy who stood up for what he believed in during an era dominated by conserva-Dems giving in to the GOP. Given my limited options, I decided to spend my spare time going door-to-door for Dr. Gill.
Although he lost that year, he did force incumbent Tim Johnson to make an expensive ad buy shortly before the election, which cut into his war chest and prevented him from sending that money to other tight races. It wasn't the exactly outcome I'd hoped for, but it did have a silver lining.
In the years since, I've had the privilege of volunteering for Claire McCaskill in Missouri 2006 and Barack Obama and Baron Hill in Indiana in 2008. Dr. Gill ran again in 2006 and 2010, and I've donated to his campaign both times. (He might have been swept in during the 2008 wave election, but he didn't run because his wife was dying of cancer at the time. Similarly, 2010 wasn't the greatest for me on a personal level, so I stayed out of the fray that year.)
Anyway, I had moved away from Illinois, and I had Dr. Gill chalked up as a great candidate in a hopeless district... until I saw the results of re-districting in Illinois. The bulk of Dr. Gill's base from Champaign, McLean, and DeWitt counties was no longer a part of the red and rural old 15th that Tim Johnson knew so well. Gill's base is now in the new 13th district, which encompasses Democratic parts of Bloomington, Springfield, and Edwardsville, including a number of universities and community colleges. It is definitely a winnable race now.
Now, don't get me wrong. The state party didn't draw up this district for Dr. Gill. In fact, the Party establishment threw their weight behind the other guy. He was a family friend of Dick Durbin, and I can't blame them for their logic: they think that Blue Dog centrism is the safe bet. I politely disagree.
When we had the House, Senate, and White House after 2008, it was the conservative Dems that killed the public option. We need representatives that aren't afraid to push for the changes we need as Americans, and who better than a doctor to drive home the point when it comes to health care. Dr. Gill is someone who walks the talk when it comes to getting dirty money out of politics, and I couldn't be prouder to support him. No Democrat is going to win this seat with a fundraising/airwaves war with a Koch-backed opponent. Goetten definitely wasn't a bad guy by any means, and you have to admire him for his service. I certainly would have supported him had he won, but Dr. Gill is the kind of candidate that will energize volunteers (which is important in a district with more than 90,000 college students). More importantly, when it comes time to govern, he's the guy I trust.
The people of the 13th district agreed with me, although by a relatively bitter sliver. That's saying something about his grassroots support, considering he was outspent 5-1 in the primaries. In Champaign, DeWitt, Piatt, and McLean counties (the only parts of the new 13th that came from the old 15th), Dr. Gill trounced Goetten. Dr. Gill will be a proud voice for reform, and he has a true grassroots campaign behind him. Most of the Democrats that supported Goetten down here did so because of the electability argument, and they have closed ranks behind Dr. Gill.
Unexpectedly, Tim Johnson, the sitting incumbent, announced that he was retiring shortly after Gill's unexpected primary win. Johnson gave the usual line about "wanting to spend more time with his family," but it sounds he was scared he might lose his first election. He certainly wasn't fundraising like someone with plans to retire.
After this bombshell, the GOP was forced to search for a candidate to replace Johnson. They looked past Erika Harold (a female multi-racial Harvard Law grad and former Miss America winner), and chose Rodney Davis.
Rodney Davis has spent more than a decade as a Congressional aide to John Shimkus for more than a decade, and a supporter of the Ryan budget. He raised nearly half a million dollars in the past five weeks, as the GOP machine has thrown its full weight behind him. He has experience working with dark money behind the scenes. In fact, that might be part of the reason the GOP picked him. The GOP didn't have the benefit of an actual primary election, and it seems that actual Republicans in the district aren't especially enthused about the outcome.
So, there you have it: Illinois' 13th district as a perfect microcosm for the 2012 election. It's an open seat in a new district that should tilt ever-so-slightly blue with a stark difference drawn between the two candidates. We're either going to have an emergency room doctor who's not afraid to speak out for health care reform, or we're going to have a DC insider that in the Koch brothers' pocket. Real Clear Politics says this should be the 37th most competitive district in 2012. I'm going to be spending a lot of the time on the pavement and with a phone to my ear to a phone help Dr. Gill win. If you're in (or near) the district, I suggest you do the same. If not, well, you know how you can help.