IL-13 up for grabs

Congressional Democrats hoping to make gains in Illinois were handed a surprise in early April when six-term Representative Tim Johnson (R-Champaign) unexpectedly announced that he would resign at the end of his term. Johnson is known for being quirky, extremely bright and hard working–he’d call hundreds of random constituents a day just to ask them if there was anything he and his staff could do for them. The rail-thin fitness buff often looked disheveled and came across as brusque, but was a non-stop campaigner when he put his mind to it; think of a human Q-Tip crossed with the Energizer Bunny.  Johnson was lined up to take on the new 13th Congressional District–drawn to lean slightly Democratic (+1), and his opponent was Democrat David Gill, a Bloomington physician, whom Johnson had thumped in three previous elections in the more GOP-friendly 15th District. Most area analysts believed that Johnson would once again win in the fall–perhaps not by as large of a margin–but no one expected an upset.

Johnson’s exit caught area Republicans by surprise, and the quickly assembled candidate-vetting process produced a wide array of wannabe replacements…including former Miss America Erika Harold. But the ultimate selection went to Rodney Davis, an affable staffer for Congressman John Shimkus and a highly respected figure among state party officials for his organizational prowess and ability to work with all factions of the Republican base. But due to the surprise nature of Johnson’s announcement, Davis is forced to play catch up with Gill, and the 13th District went from a fairly safe GOP “keep” to an open seat in a district leaning ever-so slightly left.

Gill recently released a poll showing him with a 10-point lead over Davis, but the data was collected almost a month before the selection process completed when Davis was only one of many seeking the spot. In that time period, the intrigue of the selection  process (aided by the presence of Miss America) and Davis’ ultimate selection gave the Republican a large amount of earned media. Davis recently kicked off an ambitious tour of this district which included Champaign, Decatur, Springfield and points west.

Gill’s release of his early, pre-opponent selection poll prompted us to get into the field to ask the new IL-13 voters whom they prefer at this early stage of the game. Here’s what they said:

Poll type: Automated Date: 6/7/2012 - Participants: 1,299 Likely Voters - Margin of Error: ± 2.79%
 DavisGillUndecided
ALL VOTERS47%38%15%
DEM. ONLY15%76%9%
GOP ONLY83%6%11%
INDEPENDENTS ONLY43%34%23%

Since our sample was evenly divided between the two parties and Independents (one-third Dems, one-third GOP, one-third Ind.), Gill is probably a point or so closer than this nine-point spread. Still, this isn’t good news for him. Gill is well-known among a large portion of the Democratic base of IL-13 (especially in the Champaign-Urbana area) due to the fact that he won the Silver Medal in three out of the last three elections. Plus, Gill barely won the March Democratic primary in a real squeaker where he was not the Party’s Chosen One. His openly bitter post-primary attitude has left a lot of area Dems unimpressed. Those wounds may heal, but in the meantime, Davis has received a lot of earned media in the last month. Gill hasn’t had a real chance to “define” Davis yet, so this one is like trying to decide the winner of a horse race a few seconds after the gate opens.

Davis is out to an early lead, but expect Gill to go the whip sooner than later.

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