WASHINGTON * U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis recalls the moment he learned
that Democrats had identified him as a special target for defeat in
He was standing in line for freshman orientation the week after
winning his seat last November.
"The honeymoon didn't even last a week," Davis, R-Ill., said.
"When you win by a thousand votes in a district they didn't expect
you to win, you know that they're going to come after you."
Technically, Davis' honeymoon in Washington lasted a shade over
four months, though it was punctuated by flying barbs from national
Democrats. Last week, a challenger formally emerged a full 18
months before the 2014 congressional elections.
Saying she was frustrated that Washington "is not listening," Ann
Callis declared her intention to be the Democratic candidate in one
of the diminishing number of congressional districts viewed as
competitive. She retired as Madison County chief judge the week
The announcement is early even by standards of the "permanent
campaign" that analysts say has overtaken Washington. It suggests an
effort by Democrats to convey the sense of a wide-open playing field
in 2014. Thus far, about 20 Democrats have declared candidacies for
U.S. House seats, some with primary contests.
Meanwhile, Republicans have encouraged recruits to hang back to
avoid perils of early campaigning.
The marathon contest will test whether Callis, 48, can make the
transition from the rarefied air of judicial politics. Davis has the
challenge of separating himself from the hard-edged policies
emanating from his GOP House caucus while crafting an appeal to
moderate voters in Illinois' meandering 13th District.
The new district stretches from the rich, black soils of central
Illinois to the Mississippi River, including parts of Alton,
Collinsville and Edwardsville. The district has the unusual
characteristic of taking in nine universities and colleges.
Davis' narrow victory in November was a bitter pill for
Democrats, who expected one of their own to prevail in the district
they had drawn, with Barack Obama on the ballot in his home state.
Heading into the last election, the district was rated slightly
Democratic. But given Davis' victory and the fact that Obama won't
be on the ballot in 2014 to turn out voters on all those college
campuses, leading handicappers now give Davis a slight edge.
Even so, David Wasserman, who analyzes House races at the
nonpartisan Cook Political Report, regards Davis as "probably among
the top five vulnerable Republicans" in the House.
"I think Davis starts out with a 5-point bump from where he was
in 2012. Whether the Democratic candidate can offset that is really
an open question," he said.
DEPARTING FROM GOP FOLD
Democrats weren't going to sneak up on Davis.
He may be a rookie congressman, but Davis, 43, of Taylorville,
was around the political game for 16 years as an aide to Rep. John
He raised $390,000 from January through March, nearly two-thirds
from PACs. Notable in his receipts were contributions from several
Just before Callis announced, the National Republican
Congressional Committee named Davis as one of 11 members in its
"patriot program," which comes with promises of campaign cash and
organizing help in the months ahead.
In the early going, Davis has toed the party line on some of the
bigger partisan votes, among them a GOP-drawn budget with proposed
changes in Medicare time-tested campaign ammo for Democrats. …