The Illinois special election primary to fill the seat of a resigned congressman is scheduled for Tuesday. Despite being the only election occurring in the country, there has been little enthusiasm or attention for the race.
Former U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock resigned his seat for Illinois’ 18th congressional district amid controversy partly created by his own hand. The elaborate decoration of Schock’s congressional office in the style of the show Downton Abbey raised questions about the congressman’s finances. One month ago, federal agents raided Schock’s office in Junction City, seizing documents and at least one computer.
Illinois election law states that when a congressional seat opens up, a special election must be held within 115 days. To comply with a federal law allowing for overseas military absentee ballots, the special election is scheduled for September 10.
However, the scheduling of the primary and special election may be moot because the seat is widely considered safe for Republicans. In 2012, Mitt Romney won the district by 23 points and Schock won his last race in 2014 with three-quarters of the vote. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, a Democratic-leaning segment of the district was re-routed in a redistricting process monopolized by Democrats, creating an even safer seat for the GOP. The seat is open for only the third time since 1956.
Darin LaHood, the son of former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, is considered the front-runner. The elder LaHood occupied the 18th district seat prior to Schock. Also running are conservative blogger Mike Flynn and State Farm employee Don Rients.
After losing a state’s attorney race, Darin LaHood was selected by party officials to fill a vacancy in the state Senate in 2011. Following Schock’s resignation, LaHood quickly raised hundreds of thousands of dollars. He also earned the support of sitting Republican congressmen in Illinois and the state’s Republican governor, Bruce Rauner.
Attorney Mark Zalcman filed to challenge Schock prior to the congressman’s resignation. Zalcman withdrew after Rauner set the then-tentative dates for the primary and special election. The schedule left candidates with less than three weeks to acquire the 1,000 signatures required for ballot eligibility. Zalcman accused the governor of engaging in “insider advantages” that Rauner denounced as a candidate in 2014:
“I believe this was done by the governor to insure that Darin LaHood would not have to face any grassroots opposition in the campaign.” – Mark Zalcman
Zalcman’s complaint was mirrored by one of the Democratic candidates. Acknowledging that the district favors Republicans (the party has held the seat since 1939), Rob Mellon said voters won’t “like the fact that somebody could just be anointed to a position.”
Votes still have to be cast, but the lack of drama in the Illinois special election primary showcases how the result of the primary and perhaps the special election may have been settled months and years before voters head to the booth.
Image: former U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock / Source: AP