By CARL GREEN
The crucial Illinois 13th Congressional District primary among five Democrats seems to be boiling down to one in which two candidates – Erik Jones and Betsy Dirksen Londrigan – are separating themselves from the others.
It matters, because the district, which rambles from Edwardsville in the south to Champaign and Bloomington in the north and Springfield in the west, is one Democrats could reclaim from Republicans in their bid to retake the House.
But first, Democrats have to choose a candidate, and although a couple of would-be contenders have already left the race, the party still has five people on the ballot for March 20.
REACHING OUT TO UNION MEMBERS
Of the five, just two have made noticeable efforts to win support among Metro-East unions, and they also lead in fund-raising – Jones, an attorney now based in his hometown of Edwardsville, and Londrigan, of Springfield, a self-employed fund-raiser and activist.
Both Jones and Londrigan have appeared before crucial Labor groups such as the Greater Madison County Federation of Labor and the Southwestern Illinois Building & Trades Council to pledge their support for unions. The others are not anti-union, either, but they haven’t made visits to those key Labor groups.
Jones and Londrigan also have been building support using endorsements from high-level public officials, including Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s recent backing of Jones and Senator Dick Durbin’s longstanding support for Londrigan.
The Illinois AFL-CIO took up the question of whether to endorse a candidate in the primary but decided not to because more than one candidate had substantial Labor support.
In the most recent campaign finance reports, Jones and Londrigan were well ahead of the other candidates, both raising about $350,000, spending about $110,000 and still having $237,000 available to spend. Meanwhile, Republican incumbent Rodney Davis of Taylorville was well-funded with over $1 million each in fund-raising and cash-on-hand.
The other three candidates trailed in both fundraising and big-name endorsements. Jonathan Ebel, a Navy veteran and religion professor at University of Illinois, was third in fundraising with $207,000 reported and $134,000 available. With Honor, a bipartisan group seeking to get more military veterans into Congress, has given Ebel its endorsement and promised support through a political action committee.
Dr. David Gill, a frequent candidate from Bloomington who almost defeated Davis in 2012, reported $70,000 on hand. Gill is an emergency room physician and former assistant director of the Illinois Department of Health
The fifth candidate, teacher and activist Angel Sides of Springfield, was the last to enter the race and hadn’t yet made a report. She describes herself as a “Berniecrat” for her support of Senator Bernie Sanders’ presidential bid.
Jones worked for Madigan as the policy director in her office after leaving his position as chief investigative counsel for the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee, where he helped reveal and solve problems such as formaldehyde-laced housing after the New Orleans hurricane disaster. Madigan noted that Jones continued that kind of work in Illinois.
“Through our work together, I know firsthand that Erik is an accomplished policy maker at the federal and state level and has the heart of a true public servant,” she said. “Erik assumed a key role in my administration and led many important efforts, including initiatives to protect Illinois workers from fees on payroll cards and to respond to the rash of data breaches affecting Illinois residents.
“Erik pushed through the strongest data privacy protections in the country, which require corporations to notify customers when their personal information has been compromised, and he helped pass legislation that protects small businesses from scammers known as ‘patent trolls’ who falsely threaten litigation to extort fraudulent ‘licensing payments.’ ”
The Chicago Tribune, which makes endorsements in races throughout the state, endorsed Jones in the primary, saying his “background as a government attorney at the state and federal levels would give him a running start in Congress.” The Tribune also called Londrigan “an intriguing candidate,” citing her support for stabilizing the Affordable Care Act and working toward universal health insurance.
Meanwhile, Durbin not only endorsed Londrigan but has been making campaign appearances with her, including one a few days ago at World Wide Technologies in Edwardsville, a growing computer software company that partners with Hewlett-Packard, Intel and Microsoft, among others. She was a volunteer worker in two of his Senate campaigns.
“Betsy Dirksen Londrigan is the best candidate to win back the 13th District,” Durbin said in his endorsement. “She is committed to fighting for good-paying jobs, better lives for our kids and a health care system that works for everyone.
“I was there when Betsy’s son Jack was sick and almost died,” he added. “That experience gave Betsy firsthand knowledge of the importance of quality health care and the value of having health insurance. I know she will push for changes that strengthen our system – not for policies that would close rural hospitals, cost people their jobs and lead tens of thousands of people to lose their health insurance. Betsy will fight for working families and is the right candidate at the right time.”