If you asked most Illinois Republican political insiders and experts, they would say that Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, has an advantage over Rep. Mary Miller, R-Oakland, in their incumbent-versus-incumbent showdown in Illinois’ 15th Congressional District.
With the two thrown together due to congressional redistricting, the common wisdom has been that Davis has superior organizational strength, a significant financial advantage and a knack for retail politicking — all cultivated over several decades on the political scene in Central Illinois.
But Miller, a freshman firebrand, has one ace in the hole: the endorsement of former President Donald Trump. Yet so far that support has been fairly quiet.
Besides a press release announcing his support and hosting a fundraiser at his Mar-A-Lago resort for Miller, the former president’s backing of Miller has been tepid.
Well, it now appears Miller may get her wish.
According to the Quincy Herald-Whig, an organization named “Save America Rally” has rented the Adams County Fairgrounds from June 24 to 26. This name appears to be a play on the Save America political action committee, which Trump set up just days after losing the 2020 presidential election.
A source who works in Illinois Republican politics confirmed to Lee Enterprises that Trump plans to headline a rally for Miller that weekend. Officials associated with the former president were in Quincy last week scoping out potential locations.
A Trump rally would be a significant wild card at the end of an extremely negative campaign between Davis and Miller, with the two trading jabs over who is the true conservative in the race.
It’s earned media that can’t be replicated with any amount of paid advertisements. Anyone who watches television news, reads a newspaper or listens to local radio in Central Illinois is going to know about Trump’s visit.
They will see and hear the former president alongside Miller, a priceless plug in a district that gave Trump a nearly 70% vote share in 2020.
Of course, Trump’s endorsement isn’t the end all, be all in Republican politics.
On Tuesday, the former president split a pair of congressional primaries, with his endorsed candidate easily defeating pro-impeachment Rep. Tom Rice, R-S.C., but coming up short against Rep. Nancy Mace, R-S.C., who’s been critical of the former president despite voting against impeachment.
Overall, Trump’s candidate has won 12 congressional primaries and lost three times with 11 left to be decided, according to Axios.
Davis, a traditional conservative with a bipartisan streak, has not necessarily done anything to earn the president’s personal ire.
He rescinded his support for Trump in 2016 following the release of the Access Hollywood tape but later embraced the former president’s legislative agenda and served as a 2020 co-chair of his reelection campaign.
He voted against impeachment, though he did vote to certify President Joe Biden’s electoral college victory.
Thus far, Trump has not said anything negative about Davis, just touting Miller. It will be interesting to see if that changes when he hits the stage with her in Quincy.
Another factor to watch out for is whether Trump endorses Republican state Sen. Darren Bailey’s campaign for governor during his trip. Bailey, a downstate farmer, has been openly seeking the the former president’s backing for months.
Bailey officially endorsed Miller’s congressional bid on Tuesday and the two campaigned together as part of his “Fire J.B. Pritzker bus tour.”
Bailey and Miller have long been allies, so this was hardly a surprise. Plus, joint Bailey-Miller yard signs have been up across the 15th for months.
A Trump endorsement would be the cherry on top of a week of good news for Bailey, who has emerged as the frontrunner after several favorable polls showed him opening a sizable lead over Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin, the perceived frontrunner since January.
Irvin has kept his distance from Trump, refusing to even say whether he voted for him in either election. Bailey, on the other hand, was a Trump delegate at the 2020 Republican National Convention.
The former president is popular with Illinois primary voters, which appears to be major factor in the recent developments in the governor’s race.
Asked about Trump’s visit to the state, Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker, at an unrelated event in Bloomington, acknowledged that “he’ll attract a crowd of people who support him, but the majority of people in the shape of Illinois do not.”
“President Trump can come to the state if he likes and campaign for the far right, which is what he’s doing,” Pritzker said. “This state rejected him by 17 percentage points. So if he wants to come here and thinks he’s gonna be popular … he’s got another thing coming.”
Another factor to keep an eye on is if the rise of Bailey helps Miller in her bid against Davis. Perhaps in some instances. But Davis is a strong retail politician. There will undoubtedly be some Bailey-Davis voters in the 15th, Trump endorsement or not.
Even Davis’ allies have conceded that the race would tighten before primary Election Day. And an 11th hour Trump visit adds another layer of uncertainty.
The former president’s visit can’t hurt Miller (or Bailey, for that matter) in the deeply conservative district, but we will find out just how much it can help.
Pritzker to Maine, New Hampshire
Pritzker for president?
Let the speculation begin once again as Illinois’ governor will be in New Hampshire this weekend to campaign for various Democratic candidates. He will also swing through Maine to stump for Democratic Gov. Janet Mills.
It’s not the first time Pritzker has been linked to possible presidential ambitions. But the governor’s campaign is downplaying the significance of this latest swing.
Pritzker was already scheduled to be on the East Coast this weekend, visiting Washington D.C. to lobby for Chicago’s bid to host the 2024 Democratic National Convention.
Pritzker’s campaign said that the governor was also following through on his pledge to support pro-choice Democratic governors amid the Supreme Court’s likely overturning of Roe v. Wade in the coming weeks.
For an ambitious politician, having your name in the mix of the presidential parlor game is never a bad thing, especially as Democrats explore alternatives in case President Joe Biden reverses himself and does not run again in 2024.
But Pritzker’s folks are probably more correct than those speculating about a presidential run.
Though visits to New Hampshire have historically been significant given its longtime status as the first-in-the-nation primary, all indications are that the rural, disproportionately white state will lose that status in 2024.
Now, if Illinois becomes the first primary state, perhaps we can start talking.
Rating Illinois’ 2022 campaign mailers
Contact Brenden Moore at 217-421-7984. Follow him on Twitter: @brendenmoore13
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