Democrats face uphill battle in strongly GOP 19th Congressional District

Democrats face uphill battle in strongly GOP 19th Congressional District

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SPRINGFIELD - The two Democratic candidates for the 18th Congressional District are trying to do something that hasn't been done in more than 90 years: Turn the district blue.

The last time a Democrat represented the Central Illinois district was 1917. Currently, Republican Aaron Schock of Peoria represents the district and is running unopposed in the February primaries. Green Party candidate Sheldon Schafer of Peoria also is running unopposed.

The primary election is Feb. 2.

The two candidates who are competing to take on the candidates in the general election include Deirdre "DK" Hirner of Springfield and Carl Ray of Washington.

Hirner is the former deputy chief of staff for former Missouri Gov. Bob Holden and policy director for the late Missouri Gov. Mel Carnahan. Hirner also was a lobbyist for the Illinois Environmental Regulatory Group.

Ray is a Central Illinois native and worked at Caterpillar Inc. for 10 years. He now campaigns full time and is a freelance software consultant.

Both are critical of the current representative.

Hirner was critical of Schock for voting against the stimulus package, health care legislation and the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Play Act, which gives workers more time to take cases concerning pay discrimination to court.

"The 18th district deserves someone who will work for them in Washington," she said.

Ray was upset Schock voted against the State Children's Health Insurance Program, known as SCHIP, which provides federal matching funds to states for health care coverage of children. The measure was vetoed by President George W. Bush twice, although it eventually passed and later was expanded by President Obama.

In fact, Schock's "no" vote was the tipping point for Ray to enter the race. He said the vote hit home because he has an autistic son. He was born around the same time his wife became very sick, which raised the cost of health care for the family.

"The bills financially crushed us," he said.

Ray notes his son is now receiving straight A's in school.

Hirner raised $41,000 between Nov. 6 and Jan. 13 and had $33,000 in the bank last week. Records for Ray were not available during that time, although he did raise $2,400 in the first nine months of 2009.

Schock raised $266,000 between Oct. 1 and Jan. 13. He had $354,000 in the bank last week.

Instead, Hirner and Ray have been relying on door-to-door encounters to introduce themselves to the voters.

While campaigning, Hirner said that nearly every citizen shares two major concerns: jobs and health care.

In the area of job growth, she said the government needs to provide incentives for industries to help bring jobs to Illinois. She also signaled support for renewable energy and high-speed rail.

Hirner also said it is critical to adopt health care reform. She said it is important that affordable health care be open to everyone.

Ray is an advocate of universal health care. He said he would vote for the current health care legislation that passed the U.S. Senate, but he has some reservations. He doesn't know, for instance, if Congress can "truly make health care marketplace competitive."

He is also in favor of renewable energy, including wind power. If elected, he would seek to bring more green-collar jobs to the district.

Hirner lives outside the district, but she said her home is close to the district's border, which ranges from Peoria through Western Illinois and over to Decatur via a part of Springfield.

chris.essig@lee.net|789-0865

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