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Government, Politics & Issues

Coronavirus Will Make This Tight Southwestern Illinois Race For Congress Even Tighter

llinois’ 13th Congressional District race, U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville and Betsy Dirksen Londrigan Democrat .
Belleville News-Democrat
llinois’ 13th Congressional District race features Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville and Betsy Dirksen Londrigan, a Democrat.

“Health care has been the overarching issue and it will continue to be the overarching issue,” Londrigan said. “This pandemic has amplified that this is going to remain the number one thing on people’s minds.”

Davis, 50, a three-term incumbent from Taylorville, says he’s been busy governing while Londrigan has been playing pandemic politics.

He has supported the three federal coronavirus aid packages and supports a fourth phase. He urged the President Trump to invoke the Defense Production Act, and also proposed creating a pandemic response commission to prepare the country economically and logistically should this happen again.

“That’s what I’m doing. That’s governing. We’ll see in November, once again, if their game of politics have worked,” Davis said.

Londrigan, 48, a self-employed nonprofit advisor from Springfield, has repeatedly called on Davis to urge the Trump administration to temporarily reopen Affordable Care Act, or ACA, enrollment so coronavirus patients have access to insurance.

“When we have a simple process for people to get insurance, why on Earth would you not reopen it and allow people to purchase insurance?” Londrigan said.

Davis has so far said he would follow the president’s lead. He said reopening enrollment would not help people who can’t afford to pay premiums or take on medical debt, though he added he would be open to discussing the idea with the president’s administration.

“I’m not hearing about it from anybody except my opponent, who seems to think the ACA is a cost-effective option,” Davis said. “It’s not going to be a panacea for those who can’t afford it.”

A need for ‘policy and empathy’
Though health care will undoubtedly be on voters’ minds, Davis will benefit from his visibility during the coronavirus crisis, said Travis Akin, a southern Illinois Republican political consultant.

“Anyone who is an incumbent is going to have some built-in advantages,” Akin said. “Most people are going to be more familiar with Davis. Obviously, Londrigan has run before and so people have some familiarity with the name, but Rodney’s the incumbent and he’s the one who has had much more access to the media in the last year than she has.”

But Davis’ alignment with the Trump administration response to the crisis will put him out-of-favor with “never-Trumper” Republican and moderate Democrats, said Jaimey Sexton, a Democratic political consultant from Chicago.

“If you’ve been a Trump person, I think you have a problem,” Sexton said.

The president pushed responsibility for acquiring medical equipment onto the states in an effort to shed blame for shortages, Sexton said. Americans who would typically throw their support behind the president during a crisis have not done so this time around, he added.

President Donald Trump’s approval ratings have slumped below 50% over his handling of the pandemic, polls show.

“The Republicans that have done well have done things to separate themselves from the administration. Davis hasn’t necessarily done that,” Sexton said. “This is the time we need to blend policy and empathy. People need to know you care. People need to know you need to sound be doing things for the district.”

But coronavirus throws a wrench in both campaigns, Akin said.

“The corona crisis is wreaking havoc on political campaigns right now. You can’t have people going door to door, can’t have events, can’t go to events. A lot of what goes into a campaign is being visible,” Akin said. “This presents tremendous challenges.”

Davis said his campaign will take a back seat to his work in Congress, while Londrigan says she is stepping up efforts to reach people virtually and by phone to conduct “wellness checks.” People in the 13th district worry about when they’ll receive stimulus checks, small business loans and applying for unemployment benefits, she said.

“It means a lot when you take the time to pick up the phone,” Londrigan said.

Regardless of whether voters side with Davis or his Democratic challenger, the national narrative will set the tone for November, Sexton said.

“If we had a governor’s race or a major senate race, then that attention could be diverted a bit,” Sexton said. “But it’s going to be, ‘OK, Rodney Davis has fallen in line with the Trump administration. What has that done for me?’”

Kelsey Landis is a reporter for the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.

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