SHERMAN, Ill. (AP) — After a decisive Republican primary victory, Illinois state Sen. Darin LaHood, the son of a former area congressman and Obama administration Cabinet member, is likely headed to Washington as the replacement for disgraced former U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock.
The younger LaHood won the GOP nomination Tuesday over two candidates, including anti-establishment conservative writer Michael Flynn. But the family connection was a delicate balance for LaHood on the campaign trail. His father, Ray LaHood, preceded Schock as a congressman in the region, holding the seat for more than a dozen years before he took the job as U.S. Transportation Secretary.
Darin LaHood, who had early Illinois GOP backing, more money and high-profile endorsements, portrayed himself as far more conservative than his dad, often noting his 100 percent rating from the American Conservative Union, a lobbying group. He also tried to distinguish his own career as a former prosecutor and state senator.
“My record stood for itself,” LaHood told The Associated Press before addressing supporters in Peoria.
He heads into the Sept. 10 special general election strongly favored to succeed Schock in the heavily Republican district. High school teacher Robert Mellon won the Democratic nomination in Tuesday’s low-turnout contest.
LaHood noted some voters’ frustrations with recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions on same-sex marriage and health care and said he plans to continue trying to stay connected to constituents.
“People feel there’s a disconnect with what goes on in Washington, D.C.,” he said. “It’s about staying grounded in this district and making sure whoever takes this seat doesn’t make the same mistakes as in the past.”
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. Since then, a grand jury has been hearing testimony and the FBI has collected records from a campaign office.
The scandal dominated much of the campaign, though turnout for the special primary scheduled in peak summer vacation season was dismal, at roughly 11 percent.
Nancy Norville, a registered nurse, voted for Flynn at a Springfield polling place. Flynn helped found a website with the late blogger and commentator Andrew Breitbart.
“I feel LaHood is a cookie cutter of his dad,” the 58-year-old said. “He’s connected to a lot of lobbyists already, and I want a fresh perspective, someone who will fight and listen, more grass-roots, 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,” Swartz said of the state senator. “And I’m hoping the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”
A third Republican, Donald Rients, who works for State Farm, trailed far behind in the balloting. On the Democratic side, 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.”
Tareen reported from Chicago.
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