With Kinzinger out, candidates bow out of 16th District race, plan to run elsewhere
For months, the race for the 16th Congressional District seat was shaping up to be one of Illinois' most contested, and one of the country's most-watched U.S. House battles in 2022.
At one point this fall, seven Republicans and one Democrat had announced they were after the post, including incumbent Adam Kinzinger.
It was Kinzinger - the Channahon Republican who's criticized former President Donald Trump and others for lying about the 2020 election and who voted to impeach Trump after the Capitol assault - who drew so many contenders to the race. Democrats and Trump loyalists wanted him out.
But then, the General Assembly finalized a map last month that changed Illinois' congressional boundaries and put Kinzinger and fellow Republican incumbent Darin LaHood of downstate Dunlap into the same district, essentially forcing them to duel for the GOP nomination.
Kinzinger decided not to run. And within days, the field thinned dramatically.
Nearly all the candidates have announced they're running elsewhere.
The drop-off in 16th District candidates doesn't surprise political expert Kent Redfield.
For Republicans, taking on Kinzinger meant a campaign that would draw national attention, big money and ultimately a Trump endorsement for someone, said Redfield, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Illinois Springfield.
On the other side of the aisle, if Kinzinger lost the primary, the Democratic nominee might have been able to run as a rational moderate who could demonize a politically extreme Republican foe, Redfield said.
"With Kinzinger gone, all of that goes away," he said.
The current 16th District stretches from the far Northwest suburbs and the Rockford area to downstate Ford County.
That'll change in 2022, thanks to the new map drawn by Democratic state lawmakers. It's been blasted by independent analysts, Republicans and even some Democrats as an example of gerrymandering that benefits Democratic incumbents.
In the new map, the 16th District is west and south of the collar counties. It runs as far north as the Wisconsin state line, as far northwest as the Iowa state line, and south past Peoria and Bloomington.
The six Republicans who were challenging Kinzinger for the GOP nomination are Catalina Lauf of Woodstock, Jack Lombardi of Manhattan, James Marter of Oswego, Teresa Pfaff of Machesney Park, Michael Rebresh of Minooka and Geno Young of Chicago. Marsha Williams of Channahon was the lone Democrat.
Congressional representatives aren't required to live in the districts they serve.
Marter was the first to jump ship. Shortly before the map's first draft was released in October, he declared he'd instead try to unseat Democratic incumbent Lauren Underwood of Naperville in the 14th District.
The 14th is familiar territory for Marter, a software consultant and leader of the Kendall County GOP. He lives in the district and he sought the GOP nomination there in 2020. Marter's home remains in the 14th in the new map.
"The 14th Congressional District is where I have lived and raised my family for the last 24 years," he said.
Lombardi lives in Illinois' 1st Congressional District, and under the new map his home remains there - although close to the border with the 14th. The 1st District now is served by Democrat Bobby Rush of Chicago.
Lombardi accused Democrats in Springfield of rigging the congressional map.
"I am not going to play their game," he said.
"Our campaign is committed to continuing on the path we're on to serve Illinoisans in Washington," Lauf said in an email Friday. "Our full plans will be announced next week."
Lauf's home is in the 14th District now but will be in the new 11th. She ran for the 14th District seat in 2020.
Rebresh lives in the 16th now, and the map won't change that. A professional truck driver, Rebresh said he won't run anywhere else.
Whether he stays in the race against LaHood, however, is up in the air.
"I am evaluating how badly I want to defeat another career politician," Rebresh said of the four-term incumbent. "He has served long enough and needs to move on. Am I the guy to replace him? We shall see."
Young said he'll run in his home district, the 1st. Redistricting and Kinzinger's decision to step down were factors in leaving the 16th District race, he said.
"I was after (Kinzinger) and I wanted to be the one to take him out," said Young, a musician. He hasn't yet filed an amended statement of candidacy with the FEC.
"I am a native of Rockford, though, so the 17th Congressional District may be a good fit for me," Pfaff said.
The current 17th District representative, Democrat Cheri Bustos of Moline, isn't seeking reelection.
Williams, a trade school admissions adviser, also wants to replace Bustos, even though she recently moved into the 16th District.
"I originally ran to keep an anti-choice, anti-LGBTQ+, anti-climate, anti-worker, anti-voting rights voice out of Congress," Williams said in a news release. "I originally ran to make government work for working people again. That is still the mission, and that mission is in IL-17."
As for the 16th, LaHood has a distinct advantage with Kinzinger out of the picture, Redfield said.
The new 16th includes some traditionally Republican communities that have been part of LaHood's 18th District for years. LaHood, a conservative Trump backer, also has a political organization and a fundraising base in place, Redfield noted.
"So LaHood has the mantle of an incumbent," Redfield said. "The district is not attractive for any Democrat, and it would be hard for any Republican challenger to get to the right of LaHood."