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Outside spending dominates in 15th district Republican primary

URBANA — There’s a lot of outside interest in the 15th Congressional district Republican primary race between long-time incumbent Rodney Davis and first-time incumbent Mary Miller. 

More than $7 million has been spent on the primary by outside individuals and groups, according to OpenSecrets, a nonpartisan independent organization that tracks campaign spending. The group said it’s the second-highest amount of outside spending in a congressional primary race.

There are two political action committees with a heavy hand in this race — Club for Growth and Illinois Values PAC. 

“Club for Growth actually has a handful of arms. They have a PAC, a normal PAC that can donate to candidates, a super PAC, a non-profit…Political action committees don’t typically coordinate with candidates, but they can donate to candidates,” said Sarah Bryner, director of research and strategy at OpenSecrets.

Club for Growth is known for supporting Trump-endorsed candidates, and is tied to mega donors, like billionaires Robert Mercer and Richard Uihlein.

Dr. John Jackson, a visiting professor at the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, said the Miller – Davis race is symbolic of national trends.

“Well, this is boiling down kind of a classic struggle between the old establishment or mainline Republican Party in that district, and the new, she’s a part of that Freedom Caucus, ultra-conservative…they’re the successors to the old Tea Party,” Jackson said.

He wasn’t surprised by Club for Growth’s million dollar plus support for Miller, despite Davis serving as co-chair for Trump’s re-election campaign in Illinois.

“Club for Growth has been around a good long while, and they tend to pick out the most conservative candidate in any race,” Jackson stated. “And in Republican primaries, [they] try to get behind those.”

Bryner said Illinois Values PAC has spent more than a million dollars supporting Davis. She described Illinois Values as having the “characteristics of a pop-up PAC,” which means they don’t need to disclose who or what is behind their organization until after the primary election.

“Our dark money staff have researched this group [Illinois Values] and are historically quite excellent at finding this sort of funding for political groups and came up with nothing in this case,” Bryner said.

Jackson said he isn’t familiar with Illinois Values PAC. He said “you can’t tell much about these groups…[they] pop up and [are] gone tomorrow.”

The race between Miller and Davis is an expensive one, especially compared to 2020, when only $753,708 in outside spending was involved in both of their primary races.

“Typically the mainline Republicans have dominated the Illinois Republican Party and not the upstarts [such as Miller],” Jackson said.

Editor’s Note: Since first broadcasting this story on the morning of June 13th, two million additional dollars in outside spending has been contributed to this race. It’s now the second-highest amount of outside spending in a congressional primary race in the U.S.

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Harrison Malkin

Harrison Malkin

Harrison Malkin is a politics reporter at Illinois Public Media. He's focusing on elections across the state, particularly the 13th and 15th congressional districts and the gubernatorial race. Malkin studied Politics and Communications at Ithaca College, where he was a nightly newscaster and reporter for WICB. From 2020 to 2021, he was a reporting fellow at the Center on Media, Crime, and Justice at John Jay College. You can send a tip, recommendation, or note to hmalkin@illinois.edu.

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