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Former Republican candidate for governor Darren Bailey running to unseat Mike Bost in Illinois’ 12th District

Darren Bailey, who ran for governor against JB Pritzker in 2022, is challenging incumbent Mike Bost, who has held the seat since 2016 in Illinois’ 12th congressional district.

SPRINGFIELD – The battle for the future of the Republican party is on display in southern Illinois this year, as the state’s most conservative district faces a congressional primary between two men endorsed two years ago by former President Donald Trump.

Darren Bailey, who ran for governor against JB Pritzker in 2022, is challenging incumbent Mike Bost, who has held the seat since 2016.

The candidates have a lot in common — both are staunchly Christian and hold strong, conservative views on abortion rights, the Second Amendment and immigration. The difference may be in their approach — Bost calls himself a “governing conservative,” which means he stands for conservative values but works with others to pass legislation.

“The people of the Illinois 12th actually have a voice that is heard,” Bost said. “Not a person that’s there to say ‘No,’ and also that has no experience whatsoever in getting legislation moved.”

Bailey says Bost’s experience, and his collaborative approach are precisely the problem.

“I wish the term [governing conservative] was in the dictionary, because I think it would be a one-word explanation and it would say: compromise,” Bailey said.

Bost, a Marine veteran, was elected to Congress in 2015 after serving 20 years as an Illinois state representative. During his time in Washington so far he’s introduced 85 bills, five of which were signed into law.

Bost says his experience in Congress — including as chair of the House Veterans Affairs Committee — doesn’t mean he’s part of “the swamp,” but that it means he’s been there long enough to actually accomplish work.

“Our real issue is to try to gain ground where we can gain ground and actually govern from the small majority that we have,” he said. “Unfortunately, we have people that are more interested in being on social media to get likes and also who work to get on a 24-hour news network.”

Bailey’s approach does include plenty of social media to “educate” people and “turn up some heat,” as he describes it. For example, Bailey released a YouTube video filmed on Jan. 1 opposing a new law requiring owners of assault weapons to register them online. In the video, Bailey carried one of his AR-15 rifles out the front door of his home and fired it at a piece of paper tacked to a tree. The paper read, “I WILL NOT COMPLY” — the “O” in “NOT” replaced with crosshairs.

Bost has also said he won’t comply with the law, but says it’s no one’s business what kind of guns he owns or how many.

Bailey says Bost’s voting record — which was in line with Trump’s priorities 94% of the time during his presidency — isn’t good enough, pointing to an analysis by the website Conservative Review that shows Bost voting out of step with certain far-right priorities. For example, the site dinged Bost in 2022 for supporting a spending bill that didn’t end military vaccine mandates and an initial $40 billion aid package to Ukraine.

“Well, for not being a ‘real conservative,’ I’ve got a 100% rating with pro-life. I got 100%, and I’ve always been endorsed by the NRA and every other gun group out there,” Bost shot back when asked about that scorecard at an endorsement event in Effingham. The NRA gave Bost an 83% rating in 2022 and Gun Owners of America rated him 100% last year.

In this deep red district, whoever wins the March 19 Republican primary is likely to win the November general election.

But Bost is still fighting for political survival against his own party, with Trump potentially leading the ticket this year.

So he has lined up endorsements from U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan and Ronny Jackson — Donald Trump’s former physician — along with groups of farmers, police officers, firefighters and veterans.

Bailey has the support of Rep. Mary Miller, the Republican serving the neighboring 15th District. Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, who helped orchestrate the ouster of former Speaker Kevin McCarthy, also threw his support behind Bailey.

One person who has not made an endorsement in this primary race, at least not yet, is Donald Trump.

There are two Democrats also on the ballot — entrepreneur Preston Nelson of Lebanon and attorney Brian Roberts of Carbondale. Through the end of 2023, the FEC reports neither candidate has raised any money.

Alex Degman is an Illinois statehouse reporter for NPR member stations across Illinois, based in Springfield. 

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