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LaHood wins Illinois GOP race to replace ex-US Rep. Schock

In this June 24, 2015 photo, Republican candidates in a primary to fill Illinois’ 18th District seat from left, Michael Flynn, Donald Rients and Illinois state Sen. Darin LaHood prepare for a debate in Bloomington, Ill. They are running for the seat vacated in March by former U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock who resigned after mounting scrutiny of his extravagant spending. Two Democrats are also on Tuesday's ballot. (David Proeber/The Pantagraph via AP)

SHERMAN, Ill. (AP) — State Sen. Darin LaHood won the GOP nod in Tuesday’s primary to replace disgraced ex-U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock, setting up the son of the former U.S. transportation secretary as the likely next congressman in this heavily Republican swath of central Illinois.

LaHood heads into the Sept. 10 special general election heavily favored to succeed Schock after defeating anti-establishment conservative writer Michael Flynn.

During the classic Republican primary race, LaHood portrayed himself as far more conservative than his father, former congressman and Cabinet member Ray LaHood. He received early backing from the state GOP, raised more than the other candidates and earned key endorsements, including from the National Rifle Association.

But Flynn, who was closely aligned with the late commentator Andrew Breitbart, rallied against the GOP “establishment,” saying seats in Congress weren’t meant to be handed down.

LaHood said he spent more time on the campaign trail talking about his record as a state senator and former prosecutor than his father. He said residents in the area were frustrated and looking for someone connected to the district.

“People feel there’s a disconnect with what goes on in Washington, D.C.,” he told The Associated Press in a phone interview before addressing supporters in Peoria. “They don’t want someone who is going to make the same mistakes as the previous congressman.”

Schock, once a rising GOP star, resigned in March amid intensifying questions about his use of campaign and taxpayer funds. Multiple news reports chronicled the redecoration of his congressional office in the style of the TV show “Downton Abbey,” along with questions about his spending on concert tickets and trips for employees and mileage expenses.

A third Republican, Donald Rients, who works for State Farm, trailed in the balloting. On the Democratic side, high school teacher Robert Mellon won the party nomination over Springfield school board member Adam Lopez.

However, any Democrat will have a tough road in the sprawling GOP district that touches or includes 19 Illinois counties.

Mellon said he was ready for the challenge.

“I’ve always kind of associated myself with being the underdog,” he said. “I always felt more of a kinship to David. I’m ready to go after Goliath.”

Turnout was dismal for the special primary scheduled in peak summer vacation season, at roughly 11 percent across the district.

Still, the Schock scandal and voter frustration was on voters’ minds as they headed to the polls.

Nancy Norville, a registered nurse, voted for Flynn at a Springfield polling place where there was steady voter traffic during the lunch hour.

“I feel LaHood is a cookie cutter of his dad,” said the 58-year-old. “He’s connected to a lot of lobbyists already and I want a fresh perspective, someone who will fight and listen, more grassroots, versus saying, ‘I’m going to listen,’ and when they get to Washington, they listen to the special interests.”

But retired legislative researcher Sherwin Swartz of Springfield disagreed.

“I admired his father very much, and I’m hoping the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” Swartz said.

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Tareen reported from Chicago.

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Follow Sophia Tareen at http://twitter.com/sophiatareen .

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