By DANA SPITZER
Belleville—Southern Illinois Democrats have a new candidate to contend for the congressional seat now held by veteran U.S. Rep. Jerry Costello and union leaders couldn’t be more pleased.
Democratic leaders chose former General William Enyart June 23 to run for Congress in the 12th Congressional District, which runs from Metro East to the southern tip of Illinois.
Enyart, who resigned his post as Adjutant General of the Illinois National Guard, said he was “deeply honored” by the selection. He hit the campaign trail Saturday and by Monday morning told the Labor Tribune he had already raised $145,000, with commitments of more to come. He expects the campaign to cost at least $1.5 million.
Enyart flew to Chicago June 25 for separate fundraisers with Vice President Biden and First Lady Michelle Obama.
Union leaders at a charity picnic at a Grizzlies baseball game in Sauget were enthusiastic about Enyart’s selection. The charity picnic, sponsored by Steamfitters Local 439, raised more than $15,000 for a summer camp for children with serious burns sponsored by the Illinois Firefighters Association.
“We couldn’t have come up with a better candidate,” said Dale Stewart, executive secretary-treasurer of the Southwestern Illinois Building and Construction Trades Council.”
Charles “Totsie” Bailey, business manager with Steamfitters Local 439, said Enyart’s military career and his strong personality should appeal to conservative Democrats as well as the thousands of Republican families associated with Scott Air Base, the largest employer in Southern Illinois.
“Time is short. But he can win. If we get our voters out in this election like we should, we can be a big help.”
The Republican candidate is Jason Plummer, a 31-year-old millionaire heir to a lumber fortune and tea party favorite. He showed up at a parade in Waterloo a few weeks ago and caught the attention of many union members because he was driving a Toyota pickup with license plates labeled disabled driver.
The district is open because Costello announced his retirement last spring. A previous Democratic candidate, Brad Harriman of Belleville, had to resign from the race for medical reasons.
Illinois Republicans and the GOP Congressional Campaign Committee in Washington have targeted the race as one of the districts they think they can win now that Costello is not running.
Enyart is a Belleville resident. He and his wife, a retired judge, raised their two adult sons in Belleville. He is the son of an autoworker and a strong believer in unions and the important role they play in helping create an American middle class.
“I am a product of a union family so I know personally how they help our country,” he told the Southwestern Illinois Building Trades at a recent appearance.
Enyart said he expects to campaign around three issues, more jobs for Southern Illinois residents, and protecting Social Security and Medicare.