SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WCIA) — At an official event his office billed as “non-partisan,” Congressman Rodney Davis embraced the most powerful woman in the House Republican Conference, and blamed Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for the lack of diversity in his own party’s ranks.
“There are too few members of our Republican conference that are women or African-American or are a minority,” the Taylorville Republican told a group of local women who were invited to hear him speak at the Old State Capitol on Monday afternoon.
“I get asked a lot, ‘what do you think as a Republican with the fact that you have many fewer women in your conference today than you ever have?’ he volunteered. “I like to remind people that it is Nancy Pelosi who in many cases spent millions of dollars to elect a male Democrat over a female Republicans in swing districts.”
In fact, Pelosi’s decision to back Democratic men in swing districts did help defeat two Republican women in swing districts, but her political and financial backing also aided in key victories for 17 Democratic women over Republican men in the same year, tilting the scales of Congressional gender diversity more in line with the American population than ever before.
Davis hosted Wyoming Congresswoman Liz Cheney to speak about her life as the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, and as the highest-ranking GOP woman to ever serve in the U.S. House of Representatives at an event his office described as a ‘Conversation on Women in Leadership.’
The event was part photo op, part press conference, and part pre-screened question-and-answer, but once the two politicians started talking, it may as well have been a polite mid-afternoon campaign event.
Davis embraced Cheney, both literally and politically, and said “I can’t wait one day to be a delegate from Illinois to elect Liz Cheney as President of the United States.”
In return, Cheney told the Central Illinois audience that the Congressman “absolutely is a leader for us” who “helps to guide the [GOP] conference” with “a calm, steady demeanor” as someone who “wants to get things done.”
Later Monday night, Cheney attended a Republican fundraiser at the Decatur Country Club in the heart of Davis’ district.
Cheney said the 13th Congressional District, which was home to former President Abraham Lincoln, “may be the nation’s most historically significant district,” and said Davis is not the type of leader to “sort of see which way the wind was blowing.”
The audience broke out in applause when Cheney predicted House Republicans would retake the majority in the 2020 election cycle.
Cheney painted moderate centrist Democrats who ran on a pro-jobs, pro-economic growth agenda as enablers of the left-most wing of the party. She warned voters that even if they back a moderate Democrat, they may get a more extreme result.
“Those voters in those districts [where Democrats won] were not voting for socialism,” she said. “That is what they are getting though.”
Cheney drew on themes from the national Republican playbook that seeks to portray every Democrat — regardless of their individual ideology — as either a full-blown socialist or as their unwitting accomplice.
Cheney claimed the handful of Congressional Democrats who describe themselves as socialists are “really are controlling the U.S. House of Representatives,” and without mentioning the name of Davis’ challenger, she tried to frame the next election as a polarized referendum on socialism vs. capitalism.
“I think fundamentally that is going to be the issue that is on the ballot in 2020,” she said. “Do you want to live in an issue where we continue to defend free enterprise an opportunity for everybody and economic growth? Or do you want to live in a country where the people running it believe in socialism? I don’t think the American people are going to vote for socialism.”
That cartoonish contrast leaves little room for unestablished candidates to explain nuanced, detailed policy specifics, something Democratic candidate Betsy Dirksen-Londrigan labored to carefully fine tune during the waning months of the midterm election.
The long-time fundraiser, first-time candidate centered her 2018 campaign around healthcare, access to affordable insurance, and the right to coverage for preexisting conditions. She took great pains at town halls to stand firm on center ground, even when it appeared to cost her support or enthusiasm from some local Democratic party activists who urged her to run farther to the left and adopt single-payer, government run healthcare.
Dirksen-Londrigan has said she would support an optional ‘Medicare-X’ program where people can buy into a Medicare-style insurance plan, but if other people prefer to keep their private health insurance, they should not be forced off of their current plan.
In April 2019, Dirksen-Londrigan officially announced her relaunch after narrowly losing her bid to unseat Davis in 2018, again restating her intention to focus on protecting preexisting condition coverage. The National Republican Congressional Committee promptly torpedoed her announcement by dubbing her a “socialist loser.”
The Democrat later told the State Journal-Register that she was “absolutely not” a socialist.
Davis, who routinely reminds voters of his devout dedication to civility in politics, would not directly say if he thought the NRCC jab crossed that line, nor would he say whether or not he thought Dirksen-Londrigan was actually a socialist.
“Well, you know, these are questions that you will have to ask my opponent,” Davis dodged. “I am glad that my opponent decided to run again. That is what makes this country great. Look, we had a very vibrant, very highly contested, very expensive campaign the last time. And the voters, maybe by a slim margin, they elected me to go to Washington again. So I look forward to campaigning once again, and I certainly hope over the next few years that we get a chance to know where each candidate is going to stand on the issues. It’s pretty clear where I stand on the issues, but I certainly hope we find out where my opponent stands over the next few years too.”
The Dirksen-Londrigan campaign said Davis is pushing the socialism label in order “to distract from his record of taking over $600,000 from the pharmaceutical and insurance industries and then voting against lowering the cost of prescription drugs and to strip protections for those with preexisting conditions.”
Davis has repeatedly bristled at accusations that he sought to undermine preexisting condition coverage, and claims he has voted to protect insurance for people with preexisting conditions.