Downton Abbey Congressman Already Has a 2016 Primary Challenger

While the 2016 primary is approximately a year away, one Illinois representative has already gained a primary opponent.

Republican U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock, of the Illinois 18th congressional district, was the subject of controversy after reports revealed that he used donor and taxpayer money to elaborately decorate his office and on expensive gifts for himself. People will remember him as the Downton Abbey congressman.

Mark Zalcman, a lawyer in Bloomington-Normal, announced last week that he will challenge Schock in the 2016 Republican primary. An acknowledged recipient of a 2002 DUI, Zalcman will likely face numerous challenges.

Illinois electoral law states that major-party candidates need petition signatures equal to 0.5 percent of the votes cast in the previous election. That means Zalcman will need at least 1,234 valid signatures to qualify. He was removed from a state House ballot in 2014 for having an insufficient number of valid signatures.

In a news release, Zalcman states:

“A little more time and a few more signatures are all we needed last time . . . This time around, we have plenty of time and a lot more experience, so getting (1,000) or so signatures required for this office is going to be no problem at all. This time the voters will decide, not the State Board of Elections.” – Mark Zalcman

One issue Zalcman is likely to campaign on is his opposition to President Obama’s executive amnesty program, something Schock supports:

“Our immigration system is broken enough and I don’t want to tax it more than it is. . . . We need to fix it first before we get to the problem of illegal aliens.” – Mark Zalcman

Schock escaped a primary challenge in 2012 when a Mennonite farmer, Darrel Miller, was removed from the ballot for not having enough valid petition signatures. He ran against Schock in 2014 as a Democrat, receiving only 25 percent of the vote.

The Schock scandal is still fresh, so it may be difficult to measure the amount of political trouble he is facing. As recently as this month, there were calls from conservatives for Schock’s resignation. In the National Review, Charles C. W. Cooke outright called Schock a “crook.” However, the people of his district have so far been quiet.

Covering the central and western portions of the state, the 18th Congressional District is very conservative, voting only 37 percent for President Obama in 2012. Schock was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2008 and has won re-election easily ever since — garnering over 70 percent of the vote in 2012 and 2014. So with a strong Republican voting base, if change is going to come to the 18th district, it will likely be in the primary rather than the general election.

In 2014, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor endured an unexpected defeat to Dave Brat in the primaries, so there is precedent for evicting a congressman perceived to have neglected the interests of his constituents. If Mark Zalcman can get the requisite signatures, he may get his chance to bring his message of change for the 18th district and Capitol Hill.