NORMAL — Democratic challenger Betsy Dirksen Londrigan tried repeatedly Tuesday to link Rep. Rodney Davis to President Donald Trump’s track record on the pandemic, tax reform, and incivility in politics during the second debate of their high-profile rematch.
Davis and Londrigan met in a mostly empty auditorium at Illinois State University, in a socially distanced 13th Congressional District debate hosted by WGLT.
Londrigan, who narrowly lost to Davis in 2018 by around 2,000 votes, repeatedly noted that Davis is an honorary co-chair of Trump’s re-election campaign. Trump won the 13th Congressional District by 5 percentage points in the 2016 election.
Londrigan criticized Trump’s response to the pandemic.
“We have to have a national plan. We have to have widely available rapid testing and tracing protocols. We have to have protective gear,” Londrigan said. “Think of what it would’ve been like if we would’ve had a president who stood in front of us and told us the truth, had a plan, worked with Congress to make sure we were moving forward. And instead, we had somebody (Trump) stand up there, lie to us, and people like Congressman Davis bury their heads in the sand.”
Davis repeatedly invoked the name of Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. He said Pelosi was the real reason lawmakers and Trump haven’t agreed on another round of coronavirus relief.
“It was less than a year ago that COVID-19 was discovered here on Earth, and we’re doing a great job in making sure that we address the testing issues, compared to where America was. It is in record time that we’re allowing that testing to ramp up. We need to do more. We have learned a lot. There were bipartisan failures in addressing what a national stockpile should look like,” Davis said.
Responding to a question about economic inequality, Londrigan said those disparities were “exacerbated” by the 2017 tax cuts championed by Davis. More than 60% of the tax savings went to people in the top 20% of the income ladder, according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center.
Londrigan again summoned Trump’s name and his $750 personal income tax bill.
“As we found out, President Trump wrote off $70,000 in hair styling. Teachers can only write off $250 in school supplies,” Londrigan said about the tax code.
Davis said the 2017 tax cuts “revitalized our economy and family budgets,” pointing to what he called a “period of historic economic growth” and low unemployment before COVID-19 hit.
“I don’t believe that this country can leave anybody behind, if we put good policies in place to fight poverty and to address the issue and get people into those good-paying jobs that were just here right before the pandemic began,” Davis said.
On climate change, Davis said it is real, and there are man-made components. He said current U.S. policy is sufficient, given that it controls between 14-16% of global emissions. Davis said he opposed moves away from nuclear and coal energy because that raises the price of electricity for those on fixed incomes.
“We need to hold countries like China accountable. Because over the last few years, they’ve increased their carbon output by 70%,” Davis said. “We’re doing our part to get to an all-of-the-above approach.”
Londrigan said she does not support the Green New Deal. That framework sets goals for some drastic measures to cut carbon emissions across the economy, from electricity generation to transportation to agriculture. In the process, it aims to create jobs and boost the economy.
She said the Green New Deal doesn’t give central Illinois “enough of a voice,” particularly from farmers.
“We have to make investments in conservation programs, in precision farming, in working with our farmers so that we can prepare for what’s coming, and be part of the solution,” she said.
Londrigan said Davis hasn’t done enough to hold Trump accountable.
“He talks bipartisan, but he votes with this president 91% of the time,” Londrigan said, apparently in reference to FiveThirtyEight’s rankings of congressional votes in line with Trump’s positions.
Davis again cited his No. 13 rank among the most bipartisan members of Congress, according to The Lugar Center-McCourt School of Bipartisan Index. He said Londrigan should condemn the “vitriol” coming from Pelosi, including recently calling Republicans “enemies of the state.”
“If you don’t believe that that type of rhetoric led a deranged gunman to want to take out his political grievances on me and my friends, then you’re more partisan than I thought, and that’s a pretty heavy lift,” said Davis, referring to a 2017 shooting at a congressional baseball practice.
Davis-Londrigan in 2018 was one of the tightest races in the country. Londrigan faced only one primary opponent in 2020—as opposed to four in 2018—and this year she is challenging Davis in a presidential election year with higher turnout expected.
Davis and Londrigan are both raising—and spending—large amounts of money in what’s become one of the most closely watched races in the country. The Cook Political Report says the race leans Republican (Davis). Roll Call also shows the race tilting Republican.
The 13th District includes parts of 14 central and southern Illinois counties, including parts of Bloomington-Normal, Champaign-Urbana and Springfield.
Reporters on the panel included WGLT’s Dana Vollmer, The Pantagraph’s Chris Coates, and WJBC’s Katherine Murphy. WGLT News Director Charlie Schlenker moderated the discussion. It was co-hosted by the League of Women Voters of McLean County, ISU’s Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning, and Heartland Community College.