Marron tests waters, Senators Rose, Righter bow out

ILLINOIS (WCIA) — A handful of young conservatives are chomping at the bit for the chance to run for Congress and replace the longest tenured Illinois Republican in Washington, D.C. 

Congressman John Shimkus, a 12-term veteran on Capitol Hill, announced last week that he would not seek re-election, opening a door for ambitious Republicans that had long been rusted shut. 

House Representative Michael Marron (R-Fithian) announced the formation of an exploratory committee during a press event in Danville on Tuesday, the first day candidates can start to circulate nominating petitions.

Marron, a family farmer who rides in a rodeo, previously served as the Vermilion County Board Chairman. He also chaired the 2014 campaign for former Governor Bruce Rauner. Some observers see his May vote to double the state’s motor fuel tax as a sizable roadblock on his path to victory in a tax-averse Republican primary, but one that could endear him to trade unions who benefit from a more stable funding stream for road construction projects.

On Wednesday, openly gay, pro-Trump Air Force veteran Alex Walker from Mattoon announced his intention to jump into the race.

Other conservative activists like former statehouse candidate and cybersecurity guru John Bambanek of Champaign and occasional Fox News commentator Diante Johnson of Danville are putting out feelers to see if they can garner enough support in the Beltway to spark a long shot bid back home.

Martin Barbre, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Risk Management Agency administrator and farmer from rural Carmi, is rumored to be among a list of candidates wooing establishment types to explore a potential run. His deep roots in the agriculture realm, along with his personal ties to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, could help him quickly consolidate support in the farming community, a bedrock of the 15th Congressional District.

Amid a scattered crowd of new names and fresh faces clamoring for a chance to go to Washington, more experienced politicians with well-established local footprints like state Senators Chapin Rose (R-Mahomet) and Dale Righter (R-Mattoon) both took an early bow out of the race after briefly considering a potential run.

Rose decided on Labor Day that the upcoming 2020 race was “absolutely the wrong time for my family. He told WCIA on Monday night that it’s too early to officially endorse any other candidate, but he handicapped the race declaring Erika Harold a formidable candidate who could become an early favorite, adding that if she were elected to Congress, “She’d be great.”

Righter said in a Tuesday morning phone call that although he thinks “we’re in a critical point in our nation’s history, and the Congressional seat is something I’ve thought on and off about for year,” that 2020 “just isn’t the right time for me.”

Righter said his colleague Jason Plummer, a state Senator from Edwardsville, “is a young, bright guy” who “has to be drowning in frustration in Springfield right now.”

Righter said Harold would “have made a great Attorney General,” and, “Like Jason, she’d be an outstanding nominee for our party.”

“She has a potentially bright future in Republican politics, but the question is whether or not she wants it,” Righter said.

Harold, who ran for Congress against Rodney Davis in 2014 and for Illinois Attorney General in 2018, has not indicated whether or not she may run again, but party leaders see her as a strong candidate who is eager to build relationships and take input from different wings of the splintered party. 

By contrast, Springfield Republicans have often chafed at the more dogmatic, abrasive nature of Plummer’s style. The Edwardsville Republican who inherited his family’s lumber business and contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to his own campaign regularly pressured his colleagues from more moderate swing districts to disregard swelling concerns from swing voters in their districts and adopt his strident, far-right positions.

Plummer has embarked on campaigns to satisfy his ambitions for higher office before, but his unvarnished political skills weren’t enough for him to realize his dreams. Eventually, after failed runs for Lieutenant Governor in 2010 and Congress in 2012, he fell back on a state Senate seat in his hometown where he has languished in the super minority ever since.

Another potential candidate who has remained silent about his 2020 plans so far is former state Senator Kyle McCarter, who is currently serving as the U.S. Ambassador to Kenya.

McCarter previously challenged Rep. Shimkus in the 2016 Republican nominating contest, but lost by a 20-point margin. Political operatives consider McCarter, who is from downstate Lebanon, a dark horse candidate who could play the role of spoiler if he jumps into the race and erodes Plummer’s support in the Metro East region.

Candidates have until December to gather enough petitions to run for the seat. The district is widely considered a Republican stronghold that will be effectively decided in the primary election. Shimkus won nearly 71 percent of the vote in 2018.