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Rodney Davis announces run for sixth term in Congress, ending speculation on challenge to Pritzker

U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis claims victory in his bid for re-election over Betsy Dirksen Londrigan on Nov. 3, 2020.
U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Taylorville) claims victory in his bid for re-election over Democratic challenger Betsy Dirksen Londrigan on Nov. 3, 2020.

U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Taylorville) on Tuesday announced he'll run for a sixth term in Congress, ending months of chatter about his possible entrance in the Republican primary to unseat Gov. JB Pritzker in 2022.

“Democrats in Washington have put our nation in crisis with their big government, socialist schemes and dreams,” Davis said in a statement officially announcing his re-election campaign on Tuesday. “Republicans are primed to retake the House next year, and I’m ready to work with a new Republican majority to finally fire Nancy Pelosi and hold the Biden Administration accountable for their massive failures. I look forward to campaigning hard and earning every vote in this district over the next year.”

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U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Taylorville) speaks with WGLT's Charlie Schlenker about his decision to run for a sixth term in Congress instead of making a bid for governor.

Davis began weighing a run against the first-term Democrat earlier this year, but that was long before Democrats, who control the General Assembly, unveiled newly drawn congressional districts last month. The majority party carved Davis out of much of his current 13th Congressional District, but left him with a new 15th district safer than the one he’s held onto for the last nearly nine years.

Since then, Davis has held off on announcing which office he’d seek, but it was widely acknowledged he’d likely stay in Congress. He told reporters in August that was his ambition, though he said his political future was in Democrats’ hands.

“Hoping to remain in Congress,” Davis said at a GOP event prior to the party’s day at the State Fair in Springfield this summer. “But it’s not my choice. It’s the choice of the corrupt Democrats in Springfield.”

Read more: Republicans Look To Carve New Paths To Victory In Blue Illinois, But GOP Leaders Divided On Message

Democratic mapmakers instead chose to take most of the current 13th District — which stretches from Champaign at its easternmost point and Bloomington-Normal in the north southwest to the Mississippi River and parts of the Metro East — and condense it into a new 13th District favorable for former Pritzker adviser Nikki Budzinski in her bid for Congress.

After announcing her run in late August, Budzinski’s initial campaign messaging targeted Davis as an opponent. But Democrats placed Davis’ hometown of Taylorville in the newly drawn 15th District, which runs all the way from near the Quad Cities in its northwest corner, southeast to Terre Haute, Indiana, looping back southwest catching territory south of Champaign, Decatur and Springfield to the outskirts of the Metro East.

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Illinois' current congressional map (left) vs. Illinois' new congressional map (right).

Congressional candidates don’t have to live in the same district they’re running for. But even factoring in having to learn hundreds of square miles’ worth of new constituencies, running in the 15th District is a safer bet for Davis, who has had to fend off Democratic challengers in all five of his campaigns.

Davis nearly lost his first race in 2012, and CNN infamously called the 2018 contest for his opponent, Betsy Dirksen Londrigan, in the midst of Democrats’ so-called “Blue Wave” election night. But Davis held on, and roundly beat Londrigan during a rematch last year.

Partisan gerrymandering in both blue and red states has made competitive districts like Davis’ current 13th District a rarity, but without having to worry about a serious electoral threat in the new 15th district, Davis could focus on a long-term goal — if the GOP takes back control of the House.

“Hoping to [stay in Congress] and be, eventually, the chair of our Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to work in a bipartisan way to bring resources back to Illinois,” Davis told reporters in August.

Presented with the chance to vote for a massive infrastructure package earlier this month, however, Davis and all but 13 Republicans voted against President Joe Biden’s $1.2 trillion-dollar infrastructure package. Davis panned Democrats for tying the infrastructure package to the passage of an even larger social spending plan dubbed “Build Back Better,” though its parameters are still being negotiated. Even so, Davis dubbed it “reckless.”

Davis announced his re-election bid with the support of 31 of the 35 GOP county party chairs in the new 15th district Also included in his announcement are endorsements from 14 Republican state legislators in that district, plus U.S. Reps. Darin LaHood (R-Dunlap) and Mike Bost (R-Murphysboro) and retired Rep. John Shimkus (R-Collinsville).

That strong show of support from the jump could be designed to ward off a potential challenger from his own party: Shimkus' far-right successor, freshman U.S. Rep. Mary Miller (R-Oakland). Miller is the only Republican in Illinois’ congressional delegation who hasn’t announced her plans for 2022, and could challenge Bost in the much-expanded 12th District or mount a contest against Davis in the 15th district.

Miller gained national attention early this year when part of her speech during a pro-Trump rally outside the U.S. Capitol went viral. Miller invoked Nazi leader Adolf Hitler in her Jan. 5 speech — just two days after being sworn in to Congress and one day before the Jan. 6 insurrection on the Capitol.

“If we win a few elections, we’re still going to be losing unless we win the hearts and minds of our children,” Miller said at the Moms for America rally. “This is the battle. Hitler was right on one thing. He said, ‘Whoever has the youth has the future.’”

Illinois’ current 18-member congressional delegation will be cut to 17 under the new map, dictated by the 2020 U.S. Census, which found Illinois lost net population for the first time ever. Illinois has lost one or two congressional seats each decade since modern reapportionment began after the 1940 Census.

Democrats’ new congressional map aimed to give the party 14 relatively safe seats, leaving just three districts for Illinois’ five congressional Republicans to fight over. The morning after Democrats passed the map through the General Assembly last month, one of those GOP members, U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Channahon) announced he wouldn’t seek a seventh term in Congress. Kinzinger has criticized the right wing of his party and was also one of the 13 Republican House members to vote for the infrastructure package in early November.

This post was updated after Davis officially announced his run on Tuesday morning.

Hannah covers state government and politics for NPR Illinois and Illinois Public Radio. She's been dedicated to the statehouse beat since interning at NPR Illinois in 2014, with subsequent stops at outlets including WILL-AM/FM, Law360, The Daily Line and a temporary stint at political blog Capitol Fax before returning to the station in 2020.
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