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DECATUR — What was supposed to be a competitive congressional district in Central Illinois has since become comfortably controlled by incumbent U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis.

On March 20, one of five Democratic candidates will be chosen to take on the three-term Republican from Taylorville in November. 

“If there’s a Democratic wave, this is a district to watch,” said Kent Redfield, a professor emeritus of political science at the University of Illinois at Springfield.

Five Democrats have entered the race to take on Davis:

  • David Gill, a Bloomington physician who unsuccessfully ran against Davis in 2012 and has run for Congress three other times.

  • Erik Jones, an attorney from Edwardsville who previously served as attorney with the U.S. House Oversight Committee and the Illinois Attorney General's office.

  • Jonathan Ebel, a religion professor at the University of Illinois-Urbana and a former Navy intelligence officer.

  • Betsy Dirksen Londrigan, a fundraiser from Springfield who has previously worked with U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and groups like Springfield’s Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation.

  • Angel Sides, a Springfield teacher and activist.

Few policy differences set the Democratic candidates apart, with all of them supporting universal health care and tax relief for the middle class, while also opposing the Republican replacement for the Affordable Care Act and massive tax plan approved late last year.

Their key differences come from their backgrounds and how they hope to achieve their policy goals. They also all agree on gun laws such as universal background checks and they vow not to take money from the gun lobby.

Regardless of which candidate wins on March 20, they will likely face an uphill battle to knock off Davis. Fundraising has been a strength of Davis since his first run in 2012, with his campaign reporting just over $1.1 million on hand at the end of 2017.

Redfield and John Jackson, visiting professor at the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, said a number of factors have led to Davis retaining a strong hold on the district.

Along with his fundraising ability, Jackson said the district has followed the downstate Illinois trend of becoming more conservative. Davis and other downstate congressional Republicans have done well to “toe the mainline Republican Party line” in contrast to the more conservative "tea party" members of Congress.

“That keeps them being re-elected pretty easily,” Jackson said.

The 13th District includes parts or all of 14 counties, stretching from the eastern parts of Champaign-Urbana to Edwardsville, and stretching into the western half of Bloomington-Normal and the eastern parts of Springfield.

Along with that, Redfield said Davis has been helped by the Democrats inability to field a strong candidate who could connect with voters outside the district's most liberal pockets. 

“The Democratic Party has been trending more to the left nationally, and the areas of the 13th are probably growing more conservative than when the map was first drawn,” Redfield said.

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