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Race For Illinois' 12th Gets Heated

Updated with Friday's developments

After 24 years in office, Democrat Jerry Costello is retiring from Illinois’ 12th Congressional district. Now Illinois voters will have to decide between 3 new candidates as to who will represent them in Washington. The stakes are high in this race, as it could have implications for who controls the House.

Both Enyart and Plummer have pledged to work across the aisle if elected. And so it’s surprising that this race is one that has become very partisan, and, occasionally, nasty.

"We need more jobs. We don’t need millionaire trial lawyer Bill Enyart," says one ad paid for by Plummer.

"Meet Jason Plummer: He’s only had one full-time job working for his dad, but he has millions in the bank," says a different ad that's sponsored by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

At 30 years old, Plummer is a young candidate. He ran for Illinois Lieutenant Governor in 2010 when he was only 28, but came up short.

At the debates however, Plummer towers over his opponents at 6 feet 8 inches. His father founded R.P. Lumber, where Plummer serves as vice president.

The Democratic Party has accused Plummer of inheriting the millions of dollars he’s worth. Plummer responded to that claim in an early debate.

"You say I’m an inherited millionaire," Plummer said in the Marion debate. "I look out there and I see my parents alive out there, both breathing. I’m not sure what I could have inherited from them."

Plummer's Stance on the Ryan Plan

After the debate in Waterloo, Plummer met with supporters at a local Pizza Hut. In addition to the free pizza, it gave some of his supporters a chance to see where Plummer stands on issues -- issues like the budget that’s sponsored by Representative Paul Ryan.

“What’s the deal on the Ryan plan? Are you for it, against it?" a supporter asked Plummer.

"Well, the Ryan plan doesn’t really exist right now. Now you have the Romney plan, which is a little different," Plummer said. 

"Yeah, but it’s kind of modeled the same,” Plummer's supporter responded.

Plummer’s opponent, Democrat Bill Enyart has been insistent that Plummer supports the Ryan plan, which would turn Medicare into a voucher program. The Enyart campaign points to a video of Plummer talking about the benefits of the Ryan plan.

But Plummer says that if he were the deciding vote for the plan, he’d vote against it.

Gayle Ayers also attended the Pizza Hut after-party. She’s a real estate broker in Belleville, but neither candidate won her over by talking about the housing market. She says Plummer’s pledge to work across the aisle is what will earn her vote.

“Everyone is too intent on keeping the other side from getting anything accomplished," she said. "Nothing will ever happen that way.”

Medicare: a Recurring Issue in the Race

In a race where neither candidate is an incumbent, both have to work hard to make sure voters know their names. So when Enyart went to East St. Louis to speak to senior citizens about Medicare, Pastor Zachary Lee excited the crowd by talking about a Democrat whose name they do know.

“Are we excited about this election coming up?" Lee asked, and the crowd responded with applause.  "Are we going to win the Democratic Party? Is Obama going to win? Are we going to help him win?”

Enyart is an attorney and a retired two-star general. Most of the seniors in attendance did not know who Enyart was beforehand, so it was important for him to link his name to his party.

“This is going to be an easy election because you’re going to have President Barack Obama, and then the next name below the President’s is mine,” Enyart told the elderly crowd.

Audrey Riggs was one of the 50 or so senior citizens at the event. She had never heard of Bill Enyart before, but she said the letter “D” that’ll be next to his name on the ballot tells her everything she needs to know.

“[Has to] be a Democrat," she said. "Republicans don’t mean us any good.”

She says Medicare is the single most important issue, and she trusts Democrats to take care of the program.

In debates, Plummer frequently claims the Affordable Care Act would take $720 billion from Medicare. That claim is one numerous Republicans have touted, and one that Politifact either rates "Mostly False" or "Half True," depending on the context.

Paula Bradshaw's "Green New Deal"

Paula Bradshaw is the one candidate in this race that’s avoided the attacks so far. Bradshaw is an emergency room nurse and a member of the Green Party. She’s pushing for a Green New Deal, her proposal to get Americans back to work by building renewable energy systems and a high speed rail. At a debate in Marion, Bradshaw distanced herself from both parties.

“I’m sorry, but I’m not impressed by the Republicans or the Democrats. I think it’s time we put a Green in Congress," Bradshaw told the crowd, earning applause in response.

Both Enyart and Plummer agree that this campaign has turned nasty, although the two disagree on whose fault that is.

What they both do agree on, however, is that this is an important race that could determine which party controls the House.


Unsurprisingly, both Enyart and Plummer continue to attack each other.

Enyart's most recent attack ad cites Politifact to debunk Plummer's statements that the Affordable Care Act cuts $720 billion from Medicare. As stated above, Politifact judges Plummer's claim to be "Mostly False" or "Half True," depending on the context.

The ad later claims Plummer would cost seniors $6,000 more a year, presumably in reference to the Ryan plan's stance on Medicare. Disregarding whether or not Plummer supports the Ryan plan, Politifact does not agree with Enyart in this instance.

Politifact rates that claim as "Half True," stating:

Still, absent details from the Ryan camp and an updated CBO analysis, it’s not clear what would happen over time if the new, market-based payments grew faster than the Ryan plan’s cap on Medicare spending. Would savings still come from beneficiaries? Or providers? Or somewhere else? Competing claims about its financial impact on seniors remain speculative.

The Plummer campaign released a statement on Friday afternoon, saying "Blagojevich-appointee Bill Enyart and his liberal allies have continued their dishonest campaign of deception and mistruths."

With one month out, this race shows no signs of slowing or becoming more civil.

Follow Chris McDaniel on Twitter@csmcdaniel

  • See more stories on issues and elections from St. Louis Public Radio, the St. Louis Beacon and Nine Network of Public Media at BeyondNovember.org.