State Senator Darin LaHood, son of the former transportation secretary Ray LaHood, cruised to an easy victory in the special Republican primary in the IL 18th congressional district yesterday. LaHood’s closest rival, a founder of Breitbart.com Michael Flynn, managed only 28% of the vote while LaHood got 69%.
The elder LaHood represented the district for 7 terms until he accepted the position of secretary of Transportation in the Obama administration in 2009. He was succeeded by Aaron Schock, who resigned in disgrace earlier this year when he was accused of questionable personal expenditures and lavish spending on his congressional office.
A crowd of several hundred greeted LaHood when he made his appearance at his campaign victory party at the Lariat Steakhouse — just inside the 17th Congressional District that splits the city with the 18th — with a host of local GOP luminaries in the crowd including LaHood’s father, former U.S. Rep. Ray LaHood.
“Central Illinois is very fortunate to have a family who has been giving back to our community for a long, long time,” Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis said in introducing Darin LaHood to the crowd.
Now his party’s official nominee, LaHood thanked his supporters for all that they did, from donating to knocking on doors asking for support.
In his victory speech, with his wife and three children standing by his side, LaHood said: “When you think about central Illinois and this district, it’s people who work hard. Play by the rules. Strong faith in God. They love their community. But they’re not real happy with the federal government. … How do we have someone who goes to Washington, D.C., that represents those values, to try to make America a better place. That’s what’s driven me in public service. That message has resonated out there.”
And he returned to a message he’s emphasized since first entering the race during a March 30 announcement at the Lariat.
“It’s important to stay grounded and remember who you work for and remember the community that we live in,” LaHood said. “I’m trying to strive for that. If I’m fortunate enough to win in the general election, I’ll carry those same values forward to proudly represent you in this district.”
Earlier in the evening, one of the campaign’s youngest volunteers extolled the virtues of LaHood as a candidate.
“I just really fell in love with Darin and his family,” said Jacob Schlosser, 21, of Springfield, a senior at Valparaiso University. “He’s got a really great family and he’s a solid conservative candidate.”
The three GOP candidates essentially competed throughout the campaign on who was most conservative, and they lined up closely — broadly speaking — on conservative issues in the contest to replace U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock after his resignation at the end of March.
A who’s who of Illinois and national Republicans endorsed LaHood and he outraised Flynn 10-1. Flynn was popular with more conservative Republicans who tried to make the case that LaHood was a closet RINO despite his stance on issues mirroring Flynn’s.
The voters didn’t buy it. Instead, it was LaHood’s name that probably carried him more than anything. Voters feel comfortable casting a ballot for the familiar, and in addition to his father’s name, LaHood had been running for several offices in the district for nearly a decade. He was a known quantity running against two relative strangers.
LaHood will probably be a loyal Boehner ally on most votes, showing about as much “independence” as a majority of GOP congressmen. That probably won’t prevent a tea party challenge to LaHood in 2016.
The district is a reliable Republican enclave so LaHood should be assured victory in the special election that will be held on September 10.