BLOOMINGTON — The three Republicans vying for Illinois' 18th Congressional District seat showcased their strongly conservative beliefs during a debate Wednesday.

State Sen. Darin LaHood, a former state and federal prosecutor from Dunlap, Donald Rients, a Benson farmer and State Farm analyst, and Mike Flynn, a Breitbart News Network editor and former conservative adviser, made their case for Bloomington-Normal's vote at the DoubleTree by Hilton in Bloomington.

From gun control to term limits to farm regulation, the candidates agreed on common Republican stands, only occasionally showing how one might govern differently from another.

On gun control, each argued the Second Amendment means government can't limit the rights of gun ownership, although LaHood added felons and the mentally disabled should be exceptions.

“I don't think anybody believes you as a convicted felon should be able to make guns at home,” LaHood said.

Rients, however, placed no qualifications on his endorsement of gun ownership. When asked if the government should know who owns a gun, he replied, "Why? No."

“You can harm people in many different ways, not just with guns,” he said. "You're not going to stop technology.”

Of term limits, the panel of moderators — which included local radio hosts and Illinois State University staff — not only asked candidates if they support them but specifically how many terms they would serve if elected.

Each supported term limits, and Flynn and Rients said they would serve a maximum of two and three terms, respectively.

LaHood, however, pointed out he's pushed for term limits as a state senator but avoided the question. When asked for a third time how many terms he would serve, he said, "I want everybody to serve three terms."

On farm regulation, each candidate said he is broadly opposed to subsidies and price supports, but Rients added he supports ethanol subsidies to lessen U.S. dependence on foreign oil.

The candidates agreed on same-sex marriage, religious liberty and the legalization of marijuana, among other issues.

The debate sparked when Flynn attacked LaHood, whom he says was "anointed" by Republican leaders to succeed Aaron Schock, who resigned the seat under suspicion of misappropriating taxpayer money.

“I'd like to thank you all for being here, those not on the (Illinois) Senate payroll,” Flynn said to start the debate.

Flynn also went after LaHood for giving a nonspecific answer on an Asian free-trade bill passed Wednesday, which all three candidates spoke against. He drew a connection between that and LaHood listing only local news sources as his favorites.

“We can no longer outsource this job to other people who make it a life's vocation,” Flynn said. “That's not roots. That's a fiefdom.”

LaHood did not respond to the criticism, instead focusing his answers on issues and legislation.

Rients, who has portrayed himself as the everyman in the race, attacked neither of his opponents. He said, like them, he's a Christian who wants to "fight against anything that goes against the principles of the district.”

“I don't talk a lot. I try to do a lot,” he said.

The primary is July 7. The Republican winner will face the Democratic nominee, Rob Mellon or Adam Lopez, in the Sept. 10 general election.

Follow Derek Beigh on Twitter: @pg_beigh

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Staff Writer

Reporter for The Pantagraph.

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