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Mary Miller and Rodney Davis square off in heated GOP primary to return to Congress

U.S. Reps. Mary Miller (left) and Rodney Davis, both incumbents, are facing off in the June 28 primary for the 15th District seat.

Donald Trump’s endorsement could end up being a big factor in the bitter primary fight for reelection between Miller and Davis.

Two Illinois Republican U.S. Representatives are trying to convince voters that they have the right conservative credentials to represent a large geographic portion of Illinois in Washington in what has turned into a hotly contested GOP primary.

The race has pitted incumbent U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, who has the support of his Illinois Republican colleagues, against U.S. Rep. Mary Miller, R-Oakland, who has the support of former President Donald Trump.

They’re running for election in the newly created 15th congressional district, a staunchly conservative district covering large swaths of rural central and southern Illinois. In fact, the district boundaries — which were approved by Illinois Democrats over Republican objections — cover mostly rural parts of central and southern Illinois from the Iowa border to the Indiana border and avoids including downstate metro areas like Springfield, Decatur and Champaign where Democrats might hold an electoral advantage.

Davis has already represented a large portion of the area in Congress since winning election in 2012, where he’s established a conservative record of being pro-second amendment, anti-abortion rights and in support of making Trump-era tax cuts permanent.

He was up to bat during a practice for the annual Congressional softball game in 2017 when James Hodgkinson of Belleville opened fire. Davis was not among the four people who were injured, though he has talked about how being targeted in a mass shooting informed his support for the second amendment.

“My thought was, I wish I could have my firearm that I’m licensed to carry here in the state of Illinois, I wish I could have my gun to fire back,” he said at a campaign event in Champaign earlier this spring.

Davis currently has an A-minus rating from the NRA and a B-minus from Gun Owners of America — a fact Miller has been using in attack ads against him as she campaigns to Davis’s right. Miller has an A rating from both groups.

And while Davis has racked up political endorsements in his competitive primary bid for reelection from fellow incumbent Illinois U.S. Reps. Darrin LaHood, R-Dunlap, Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, and former U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, it’s Miller who won the endorsement of a major Republican that has made this race one to watch for the June 28 primary.

“Congresswoman Mary Miller is doing a fantastic job representing the people of Illinois,” former President Donald Trump said in a statement. “She fights hard against Joe Biden’s open borders, runaway inflation and the radical indoctrination of our children. Mary has my Complete and Total Endorsement!”

The endorsement came even though Davis ran Trump’s Illinois campaign in 2020 and voted in line with Trump 88% of the time, according to FiveThirtyEight.

Still, the former president’s endorsement could hold a lot of sway with primary voters in the new 15th District. A recent WBEZ/Chicago Sun-Times poll showed a vast majority of Illinois Republicans still hold Trump in high regard and that more than two-thirds of them believe Trump actually won the 2020 election.

Trump also announced this week he will hold a rally with Miller near Quincy on June 25.

Besides Trump’s endorsement, Miller differs from Davis in several other key ways.

For example, Davis voted to create the Special House Investigative Committee studying the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. — Miller didn’t and still chastises Davis for supporting a “witch hunt.”

Davis did not object to the 2020 presidential election results, which Miller did and still does.

Miller is a member of the far right House Freedom and Second Amendment caucuses. Davis isn’t.

The freshman Republican also was widely ridiculed when she invoked Adolf Hitler in a speech just days after she was sworn in. “Hitler was right on one thing,” Miller said in a January 2021 rally. “He said whoever has the youth has the future.”

After facing criticism from both parties and calls from Democrats that she resign, Miller eventually apologized for referencing Hitler while making a point about teaching things to children and blamed her detractors for twisting her words.

She’s also sponsored legislation in Congress such as the “Safety and Opportunity for Girls Act” which she has argued would protect children. It would mandate schools keep “sex segregated spaces” like bathrooms and locker rooms intact and maintained.

But she won’t answer questions about a convicted sex offender whom she let volunteer for her campaign.

Brad Graven pleaded guilty in 2005 of luring a young boy over the internet to a parking lot for sex. The young boy was an undercover police officer.

Miller’s campaign refused to answer questions about Graven’s conviction, or anything else related to the volunteer’s work for the campaign. Miller’s campaign spokesman did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

But it’s not just local media that are having a hard time connecting with her.

Sangamon County Sheriff Jack Campbell, who’s also a member of the Illinois Fraternal Order of Police, which endorsed Davis, has criticized Miller for being absent from policy issues that affect his department.

“If she advocates in Washington, D.C., for us, that’s great. We need that,” Campbell recently told a room full of reporters about Miller. “But again, for me personally in Sangamon County, which is what I’m concerned about, I’ve never spoken to her in my life.”

The winner of the Davis-Miller matchup will go on to face Paul Lange, a Democratic Precinct Committeeman from Quincy, in the November general election.

Alex Degman covers Illinois state government for WBEZ. Follow him @Alex_Degman

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