Testy 12th U.S. House race a toss-up heading into November
SPRINGFIELD — Matt Hawkins is a voter worth wooing. He’s black, a military veteran and a politically independent voter who is plugged into social and economic issues in his hometown of East St. Louis.
But the campaign rhetoric in the contentious 12th Congressional District race between Republican Jason Plummer and Democrat Bill Enyart has left Hawkins so turned off that he plans to vote for little-known Green Party candidate Paula Bradshaw.
“She has an agenda; she’s talking about environmental justice. She’s saying, ‘Make sure we give people a chance before we poison them.’ Is that so bad? Is that so un-Democratic or un-Republican that you can’t mention it?” Hawkins, 45, said.
“She has the courage and the agenda that give me the belief that if there was some way she made it to Washington, she would make sure both parties grew up and started acting like adults. For me, that’s the kind of candidate we need in Washington.”
Money has been pouring into the 12th District race, which the New York Times identified as one of 22 most-competitive toss-up races in the country — and for good reason. The 12th District, now stretching from industrial Alton north of St. Louis to rural Cairo at the southern tip of the state, has been in Democratic hands for 20 years. U.S. Rep. Jerry Costello has had the seat since 1988 and is retiring after the election. Before Costello, Democrats Paul Simon, Ken Gray and Glenn Poshard represented the region from 1973 until 1993.
That kind of political longevity is contributing to the frenzy over the seat, said John Jackson, a visiting professor at the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale.
“The important thing, beyond the national implications this year, is that once somebody’s in (that seat), they stay in until they die or retire. We keep them forever,” Jackson said. “So whoever wins will be the odds-on favorite to be our representative for southern Illinois for the next 20 or 25 years.”
Plummer, 30, of Fairview Heights, ran for Illinois lieutenant governor in 2010 and lost. His wealthy family owns R.P. Lumber Co.
Enyart, 62, of Belleville, is a lawyer and a retired adjutant general in the Illinois National Guard. Enyart got a late start in the race,when he was nominated to replace Brad Harriman, who dropped out in May citing medical problems.
Bradshaw is a 59-year-old nurse and activist from Carbondale.
Plummer and Enyart have spent a great deal of time during debates sparring over who has more wealth, who has more military experience, who did or didn’t release their tax returns and who is more like the presidential candidate of their own party. Both have flooded the southern Illinois airwaves with attack ads. Neither candidate has a political record for voters to reference because neither has ever held office.
Hawkins, who watched the 12th District debates online, calls their squabbles “one-upsmanship garbage.”
“If I want to see a fight, I’ll watch boxing. If I want to see a collision, I’ll watch football. When I watch politics, I want to see dedication and professionalism. I want to see real efforts to understand the problems, so we can find solutions,” he said. “I don’t really care about 90 percent of what they talked about.”
Plummer and Enyart have touched on such topics as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, taxation, Medicare and the economy during their debates. But much of the news coverage has noted their jabs and personal attacks during the events.
Jon McLean, chairman of the St. Clair County Republican Committee, said Republican voters in the predominantly Democratic Metro-East county are “very excited” about the 12th District race, noting that this district has not had a competitive race since the late 1990s. He said Plummer is young, fresh and without the baggage other candidates have.
“I think the congressional race locally has a lot of people energized. In Illinois, I think a lot of Republican voters feel their vote doesn’t matter much in the presidential race,” he said. “But in this race, I think they feel we can elect someone who can go to Washington and not vote with Nancy Pelosi or Barney Frank, someone who will not be part of this so-called Democratic machine that for years we have become so upset with.”
Meanwhile, Jim Kirkpatrick, chairman of the Williamson County Democratic Committee, a rural southern Illinois county that includes Marion just off Interstate 57, said Enyart has gained a lot of ground in a short amount of time and has a chance to defeat Plummer.
“It’s definitely a crucial seat. But I think Gen. Enyart is a very good candidate. I think he’s doing everything he can to win. I’ve got nothing against Jason Plummer, but, quite honestly, I don’t think he has the experience,” Kirkpatrick said. “If they’re negotiating the future of Scott Air Force Base, who do you want at the table: the two-star general or somebody who’s not really got that much military experience?”
Recent polling by Democrats and Republicans show the candidates neck and neck, but each with an edge over the other, depending on the poll. Many observers agree the race is too close to call and will come down to the wire.
“I don’t think it’s a lead pipe cinch either way,” Jackson said, “I would say whoever does the best job in the ground game in the end and getting out their own people is going to win the game. They’re about equal on the air war on TV.”
Earlier this week, the House Majority PAC, a super PAC for the House Democrats, canceled a large television ad buy in the race, saying the ads are not needed because a poll by the group shows Enyart ahead. Republicans say their polling shows Plummer ahead.
“It’s interesting that the Majority PAC is going to pull out and take their money and go into other races. I think that’s positive,” McLean said. “But I also am cautiously optimistic, because I know that as the race gets closer, they can move money around very quickly. They’re not completely gone. They’ve been on television. They’ve had mail pieces in the mailbox. It’s not like they’re abandoning their candidate. I still think they’re in the race; I just don’t think things are going as well as they originally thought they would.”
Kirkpatrick disagreed, noting that Enyart can capitalize on recent missteps by the Mitt Romney presidential campaign and build more momentum heading into November.
“Both sides are doing everything they can to win it. I really think the Democrats have a good chance of retaining it,” he said.
Contact Jayette Bolinski at email@example.com.
78.0 F (25.6 C)
Pressure : 1005.3 mb
Humidity : 60 %
Wind : South at 12.7 MPH (11 KT)
What's on FOX Illinois Full Schedule
So You Think You Can
NewsChannel at 9 on Fox
Two and a Half Men
The Big Bang Theory
Everybody Loves Raymond