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A hotly contested rematch in a central and southwestern Illinois district that has drawn national attention as a top target for Democrats is one of the most closely watched of several Downstate congressional races on the Nov. 3 ballot.
Democrat Betsy Dirksen Londrigan is making her second bid to flip U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis’s Downstate congressional seat, two years after the four-term Republican incumbent narrowly survived her first challenge by just over 2,000 votes.
The district, which sprawls from Champaign to the Missouri border north of St. Louis and includes parts of Springfield and Bloomington, went for President Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton by 5.5 percentage points in 2016.
As in 2018, health care is the central issue in the race. Londrigan has said her family’s experience navigating the health care system through her son’s bout with a life-threatening condition, along with Davis' vote in 2017 for legislation that would have repealed key parts of the Affordable Care Act and replaced them with a significantly different policies, were primary motivators in her decision to challenge him in 2018 and again this year.
Davis said in an interview he favors a replacement for the Affordable Care Act that would include coverage for preexisting conditions. Londrigan contends his 2017 yes vote on a bill that ultimately didn’t pass in the Senate “would have gutted protections for people with preexisting conditions.”
Londrigan has indicated she would support a “public option,” a plan that would allow people to buy into a government-run insurance program as an alternative to private insurance plans.
“There are areas where providers have left and they’ve lost competition, so how do we bring competition into some of our rural communities and for small business owners, to lower costs, and I think a Medicare public option is something we should look at,” she said in an interview. “It has to be done with the hospitals to make sure they can maintain their excellent standard of care. But the idea is — how can we make sure that we are lowering the costs, the out-of-pocket costs and the premiums.”
Davis contends that Londrigan’s preferred plan would be devastating to rural hospitals, citing a 2019 American Hospital Association study that found a Medicare public option plan could result in a cut of nearly $800 billion to hospital-based services over 10 years.
“You want to talk about killing my district — it could close 39 rural hospitals in Illinois,” Davis said. “And these hospitals are the lifeline between somebody with a medical condition to get stabilized enough to get to a larger facility for further treatment. For some of the communities in my district, our hospitals are our largest employers.”
Londrigan acknowledges there are some versions of Medicare as a public option “that work, and some versions of it that don’t work.”
“The whole reason I’m in the race is to protect health care, and to make sure that every person has access to quality affordable care,” Londrigan said. “Clearly, that includes all of our rural communities, and the only plan I would ultimately vote for would make sure that our hospitals are healthy and robust and offering excellent care to people in every corner of central Illinois.”
Davis said he doesn’t support the lawsuit pending before the U.S. Supreme Court led by a coalition of Republican attorneys general that challenges the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act.
“The last thing I want to see is people lose any coverage that they may have during a pandemic," he said in an interview.
He touts bipartisan legislation he co-sponsored earlier this year to extend COBRA coverage for people who have lost their jobs during the pandemic, “so they can keep their employer-based coverage, and the government would subsidize that employer portion so that they don’t see an increase in cost if they lost their job.”
Londrigan wrapped up the second quarter with nearly $400,000 more in cash on hand than Davis, who reported nearly $1.9 million in the bank as of June 30.
“I do believe we will win, and what we have done is built on the foundation that we laid in 2018,” Londrigan said. “We marched into this race with over 2,000 volunteers — that’s a volunteer army that we built during the last cycle, and have only increased that number.”
Both parties at the national level have sought to attract attention and money to the race. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee identified Davis' district as one of 33 to focus on, in an effort to expand the party’s majority in the House. That followed a swell of Democratic victories in 2018 that included U.S. Reps. Lauren Underwood and Sean Casten flipping suburban seats previously held by Republicans.
The DCCC has also put money into Londrigan’s campaign through its “Hold the House” fund, an effort to direct funding to 30 races Democrats see as critical to maintaining their majority in the House.
The Congressional Leadership Fund, the House Republicans' Super PAC, pumped millions of dollars in fall advertising to highlight a number of races, including Davis' effort to stave off Londrigan’s challenge a second time.
“Remember, this district wasn’t supposed to be won by a Republican when it was drawn in 2011,” Davis said. “And we’ve won it four straight times, and we expect to do it again.”
Londrigan’s campaign and its focus on health could benefit from Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden’s attention to the same issue, said Laurel Harbridge-Yong, an associate professor of political science at Northwestern University.
“They’re advocating that only a Biden administration can push forward legislation to continue to protect preexisting conditions, to the extent that narrative is more compelling to voters, that could certainly help Betsy Dirksen Londrigan," Harbridge-Yong said.
Davis is an honorary co-chair of President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign in Illinois and could be helped by the president’s “message of we’re already recovering from the pandemic, we’re going to keep moving forward, the economy’s on the rebound,” Harbridge-Yong said.
In other Downstate races, U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, the Democrat from Moline who chairs the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the party’s House campaign arm, is being challenged by Republican Esther Joy King, a lawyer and Army Reserve officer from East Moline.
Bustos is seeking her fifth term representing the district that includes the Quad Cities and runs along the Iowa border from Illinois' border with Wisconsin south to Peoria. Two years ago, she defeated a Republican challenger by 24 percentage points, the largest margin of victory by a Democrat in a district Trump carried two years earlier.
Trump won Bustos' district by 10 percentage points in the last election.
U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, a fifth term Republican from Channahon, has a challenger in Dani Brzozowski, of La Salle, chairwoman of the La Salle County Democrats.
Kinzinger, who has been critical Trump, was the only Republican congressman from Illinois who was left off the list last year of co-chairs for Trump’s reelection bid in the state.
The district wraps around the collar counties and shares a border with both Wisconsin, near Rockford, and Indiana, south of Kankakee.
In the heavily Republican far southern Illinois district represented by the retiring U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, Republican Mary Miller of Oakland is facing Democrat Erika Weaver of Mattoon.
U.S. Rep. Darin LaHood, of Peoria, is being challenged by attorney George Petrilli of Springfield, in his effort to retain his seat representing the Republican-dominant central and western Illinois district that also includes Quincy.
LaHood took the seat after winning a special election in 2015, following former U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock’s resignation in the wake of a spending controversy. Before Schock, LaHood’s father, Ray LaHood, represented the district before becoming transportation secretary under President Barack Obama.
Petrilli was a latecomer to the race, announcing in July he would challenge LaHood, who is seeking his third full term.
U.S. Rep. Mike Bost, of Murphysboro, is challenged by educator Ray Lenzi in his bid for a fourth term representing the far southern Illinois district that includes Carbondale and part of the Metro East region outside St. Louis.
“Given the demographics of these districts, they are drawn to be safely Republican districts,” Harbridge-Yong said of the downstate districts represented by Shimkus, LaHood and Bost.
In a Chicago area race, Democrat Marie Newman faces Republican Mike Fricilone, a Will County board member from Homer Glen, after ending more than three decades of Lipinski family representation in the Southwest Side and suburban 3rd Congressional District.
The district is heavily Democratic, and Newman, a businesswoman from La Grange, defeated U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski, a socially conservative Democrat, on her second try in the March primary. Lipinski has held the seat since 2005, while his father, Bill, represented the district for more than two decades before that.
Given the population trends over the past decade, Illinois is expected to lose one of its 18 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives through the Congressional reapportionment following the 2020 census. The redistricting process will take place next year.
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