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Politically Speaking: Kelly on his quest to turn Illinois’ 12th District blue again

St. Clair County State's Attorney Brendan Kelly
Jason Rosenbaum I St. Louis Public Radio
St. Clair County State's Attorney Brendan Kelly

Brendan Kelly, the Democratic candidate in the 12th Congressional District, talked extensively with St. Louis Public Radio’s Jason Rosenbaum about his decision to enter the highly-competitive congressional contest.

Kelly is squaring off against Congressman Mike Bost, who became one of the first Republicans to represent the 12th District in generations when he captured the seat in 2014. The Bost-Kelly contest is expected to be one of the most competitive congressional races in the nation this year.

Kelly has been a well-known political figure in the St. Louis area for some time. He’s served as state’s attorney in St. Clair County since 2010 — and has often been the face of some high-profile prosecutions in the metro-east. He’s made combating opioid abuse a major priority over the past few years.

After political insiders talked about him as a possible congressional candidate for years, Kelly decided to run for the seat that takes in parts of the metro-east and a number of rural counties in southern Illinois. Although prognosticators who follow congressional contests originally gave the edge to Bost, most now consider the race a toss-up.

Unlike other congressional districts in Illinois, Kelly is not necessarily trying to derisively tie Bost to President Donald Trump. Some of the president’s policies are popular in parts of the district, such as his steel and aluminum tariffs. U.S. Steel’s Granite City Works is in the 12th District, and it’s possible that the tariffs could steer more business there.

Bost is slated to record an episode of Politically Speaking later this month.

Here’s what Kelly had to say during the show:

  • He was recruited and asked to run for the 12th District seat before this cycle, but didn’t feel that it was the right time for him to run. “I had to really have a moment and discern what’s the right thing for my family,” Kelly said. “I think it’s important to listen to your gut when you’re making those important decisions.”
  • He will not vote for Nancy Pelosi to be Democratic leader if he’s elected. “I think the idea that we don’t have other people that can step forward and be able to lead is not a healthy one for our democracy in either party,” he said. “You have to continuously develop new leaders. I think that’s why we have some of the challenges we have in this country — it’s just the same old folks arguing back and forth.”
  • One of the biggest issues he’s hoping to tackle is the onslaught of money in politics, which Kelly says was made much worse by the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision.The court ruled that corporations could spend money to influence elections.
  • He acknowledges that Bost is not an easy opponent to defeat, as he’s cultivated a reputation over the years as a hardworking campaigner. “I do think it’s going to be a fight the whole way,” he said. “I don’t think it’s going to be some magical wave one way or the other.”

Follow Jason Rosenbaum on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

Follow Brendan Kelly on Twitter: @Kelly4SouthrnIL

Music: “Space” by Something Corporate

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.