In 2012, the two candidates in the Republican primary election for the 16th Congressional District argued over who was more conservative.
The race was between longtime incumbent Don Manzullo of Egan and first-term Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Channahon, who had represented the 11th Congressional District for 2 years.
In 2011, the Democratic-run state Legislature redrew boundaries to put both men in the 16th District, which includes Lee County. The redistricting packed as many Republican voters as possible from the region into the 16th District so that other districts could go Democratic.
The strategy worked.
In the primary, Kinzinger knocked off Manzullo, a 20-year incumbent. Kinzinger made the case that he was more conservative, ready to cut back government and taxes, a message that worked well with the tea party.
In the general election, Kinzinger handily defeated a poorly funded Democratic rival.
These days, the tea party isn’t so happy with the 36-year-old Kinzinger, whom they see as capitulating to President Barack Obama. Kinzinger has voted for deals to increase the debt limit, although not in the most recent instance. In that case, he joined with the great majority of House Republicans to oppose their own leadership, who struck an agreement with Obama to raise the debt limit with practically no concessions from the White House.
In the March 18 Republican primary, Kinzinger has one opponent, David Hale, founder of the Rockford Tea Party.
So far, Kinzinger has raised nearly $1 million for the campaign, mostly from the special interest groups that shower money on incumbents. Hale has less than $5,000.
National groups such as FreedomWorks, Heritage PAC and the Club for Growth are known to fund challengers to Republican incumbents who are considered insufficiently conservative. They have given nothing to Hale, which likely means they believe Kinzinger has a lock on the seat.
Hale, 51, said he didn’t mind the lack of donations from the major conservative groups.
“It helps me be much more independent,” he said. “Nothing against those groups. I don’t like PACs in general. When you take money from them, you are bound and chained to do what they tell you to do.”
Kinzinger and other Republican House members, Hale said, are moving away from conservatism in the hopes of gaining Democratic votes.
“They have turned into the Republican surrender caucus,” he said.
Kinzinger’s recent vote against the debt limit increase, Hale contended, was the result of Hale’s candidacy.
“He knows someone is barking at his heels,” Hale said. “He doesn’t want to look bad to his base.”
Generally, Hale, a U.S. Army veteran, calls for drastic cuts in government spending, but he draws the line at pay and benefits for the military.
“The cuts that Obama is making are going to attack military pay and benefits,” he said. “If they’re going to go after the military, they’re going to have to go after the military industrial complex. Their pay and benefits should not be touched. If I were a congressman, I would be pushing continuously to raise the pay and benefits of the military.”
Kinzinger has touted his support for the military. He joined the U.S. Air Force in 2003 and was later awarded his pilot wings. He continues to serve as a pilot in the Air National Guard, holding the rank of major.
Kinzinger’s office didn’t respond to a request for an interview.
Occupation: Congressman; captain in Air National Guard
Experience: McLean County Board, 1998-2003; joined Air Force in 2003 and stationed in Iraq twice
Education: Bachelor's degree, Illinois State University
Occupation: Configures computer systems for hospitals
Experience: U.S. Army veteran, served 3 years as helicopter crew chief
Education: Bachelor's degree in journalism, Southern Illinois University
Family: Single, one son, 15.