By CARL GREEN
Belleville, IL – When C.J. Baricevic announced he was running for Congress last year and started making the rounds of union halls to build support, he was met with wholehearted support – and some skepticism as well.
He was a lawyer, but only about 30 years old and known mainly for being the son of a well-known father, Chief Judge John Baricevic, the former St. Clair County Board chairman.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) would not jump on board right away, instead casting about for a more experienced and better-known candidate, who never materialized.
But now, the young candidate looks like a serious contender in the 12th Congressional District, through a combination of strong union support, surprisingly large campaign contributions and his own tireless efforts to go anywhere and everywhere he can promote his campaign.
If he is successful, unions would win a strong supporter in Washington at a time when they need it, and he would replace an incumbent known for his antipathy toward unions, Mike Bost (R-Murphysboro).
It would also grab back a seat in Congress that supported Labor for many years under Jerry Costello and his predecessors, lost only to a Republican high tide two years ago that swept away former National Guard Adjutant General Bill Enyart, who was elected in 2012 and then lost to Bost in the 2014 mid-term. Bost’s long service in the state legislature helped him defeat Enyart, as did the way the strongly Democratic Metro-East is split into three districts, all with large rural areas that usually vote Republican.
At this point, Baricevic appears to have the best chance for a Democrat to win in any of those three districts. The Democratic candidate in the 13th District, unionist Mark Wicklund of Decatur, is working with limited funding against incumbent Rodney Davis (R-Taylorville), while the incumbent in the 15th District, John Shimkus (R-Collinsville) doesn’t even have a Democratic opponent on the ballot.
What has grabbed everyone’s attention about Baricevic is the energetic way he is running his campaign, showing up constantly for union events and developing positions on issues.
“I think C.J.’s doing a great job,” Costello told the Labor Tribune. “He’s doing all the things he should do. He’s working very hard, he’s all over the district. If I were advising him, I would tell him he’s doing all the right things.”
Much has been made of the national party’s hesitance to jump on the bandwagon, but Costello says it’s really a matter of limited resources, since national Democrats just don’t raise as much money as Republicans.
“Time will tell,” Costello said. “They never get involved in the early stages. There are only so many races they can target.
“What C.J. is doing is moving himself up the ladder. They’re paying attention to this race. And I think, hopefully, he will progress and they’ll get involved. Right now, they’re looking at a lot of races around the country, including this one.”
It brought some attention to the candidacy when the Federal Election Commission’s fundraising reports for the first quarter of 2016 came out and showed Baricevic actually outraising, barely, the Republican incumbent for that period, $279,669 to $273,373.
That doesn’t mean Bost has lost his edge in campaign funding – his cash on hand as of April 1 was $867,135 compared to Baricevic’s $323,564. But it does mean Baricevic is a bona fide candidate who can draw enough support on his own to run a serious campaign.
“You’ve got to commend him,” Costello noted.
“Since the beginning of the campaign, we’ve said we’d have enough money and the infrastructure and the capacity to run a really successful campaign,” he told the Labor Tribune. “And that’s exactly where we’re at right now. Moving forward, I think we’ll continue to build on our progress, and so far things are looking pretty good.”
For the record, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Sunday, May 22, published an “investigation” in which they analyzed Baricevic’s contributions and found that the St. Clair County lawyer was getting strong support from … St. Clair County lawyers. The Post, however, did not bother to analyze the much greater funding Bost is getting from big corporations, as if to say one thing is not OK and the other is.
Baricevic, from Fairview Heights, is a partner in the Chatham and Baricevic law firm, which specializes in Labor law and representing injured people, and has worked as a public defender. He graduated from Southern Illinois University Law School. Along the way, he worked on roads as a member of Laborers Local 100 and at Granite City Steel as a member of Steamfitters Local 439.
ON THE ISSUES
Among Baricevic’s issues positions are opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership and other trade deals that destroy American jobs, support for improved education, opposition to cutting Social Security and making Medicare a voucher system, and support for 2nd Amendment gun rights.
It’s a moderate Democrat program similar to the positions that Costello took, and it has resonated in the district.
“All 12 counties in the district have been unbelievably supportive,” Baricevic said. “Without a doubt, it’s been extremely flattering to be a part of the party within the 12th Congressional District.
One of his strongest supporters has been Charles “Totsie” Bailey, business manager of Steamfitters Local 439 and president of the Southwestern Illinois Building and Construction Trades Council.
“We’re getting great responses,” Bailey said. “We’re getting a lot of people who want to participate and help C.J. win this election. We’re going to get this guy elected.”
Bost has claimed to support unions but in most cases has been no friend to working families, Bailey added.
“His voting record is 20 percent for Labor, 80 percent against,” Bailey said. “C.J. will be a 95 to 100 percent voting record for Labor.”
Baricevic and Costello now are optimistic about the campaign becoming a national priority for Democrats.
“I think when he first got in the race, nobody gave him a shot because they didn’t know him, and they didn’t know if he would work,” Costello said. “He’s working hard, he’s doing all the right things, and we’ll see what happens, but I hope the DCCC comes in and helps him. He’s a real good guy; I’ve known him for a long time.”
Baricevic said he has been having some productive conversations with the national committee.
“I think they’re getting excited about the campaign,” he said. “This is a great year to run, it’s a great year to win, people are really excited about the issues, and, frankly, the guy I’m running against hasn’t done much to help his cause.
“We’re trying to concentrate on the positives and keep working hard, but I think things are looking pretty good.”
To donate to or volunteer for C.J. Baricevic’s campaign, go online to cjforcongress.com.