CHAMPAIGN – Two GOP candidates said Monday that they would like to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson on the November ballot, while the state Republican Party said it will start vetting potential successors right away.
Johnson said last week that he'll drop his re-election campaign and retire at the end of the term, starting a race to replace him as the GOP candidate for the new 13th Congressional District seat. Republicans consider the seat safe, though some national Democrats have called the race one to watch.
Jerry Clarke, a former Johnson chief of staff, and first-term state Rep. Adam Brown both said Monday that they would be interested in running.
Johnson said last week he'll stop campaigning for re-election and plans to retire at the end of his term. The successor will be chosen by county party chairmen in the 14 counties that are part of the 13th district, with the vote weighted by the number of Republicans who voted in each county in the March 20 primary. The successor won't be chosen until after the results of Johnson's primary win are certified on April 20.
Clarke, of Urbana, said during news conferences in Urbana and Springfield that he hopes Republican leaders choose him to run against Democrat David Gill.
Clarke, a veteran of the Iraq war, said he's focused on lower taxes and some of the same issues championed by Johnson – extreme partisanship in politics among them.
"I believe we can do better and I'm ready to serve. Now more than ever we need common sense in Washington," Clarke said. "Simply put, we need to reform Congress."
Brown, of Decatur, expressed his interest in an interview.
"I put in all the calls with the county chairmen, chairwomen at this point," he said, calling federal spending his top issue. "And I'm definitely very interested."
State Party Chairman Pat Brady said he and county chairmen would start vetting potential candidates Monday night. He said Johnson's successor would need to submit a blueprint on how to quickly start campaigning and win in November.
"My advice is come in with a plan, because that's what we're going to look for," he said.
Other potential replacements listed by party officials include former state Rep. Mike Tate of Springfield, Rodney Davis, who works for U.S. Rep. John Shimkus of Collinsville, and state Rep. Dan Brady of Bloomington. Dan Brady and Pat Brady are cousins.
Another potential candidate, state Rep. Chapin Rose of Mahomet, said earlier Monday that he does not want to run.
"I appreciate the many well-wishers who suggested that I run for Congress," Rose, a father of four, said in an emailed statement. "But this was a quick and easy decision: I am not interested in running for Congress at this time. Camille and I have been extremely blessed to have so many wonderful friends and supporters, but our children are very young."
Johnson said last week that after more than a decade in Congress and more than 40 years in politics he's dropping his bid for re-election. He insisted he's dropping out because he wants to devote time to his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Johnson faced primary opposition this year for the first time in more than a decade, though he won easily.
Brady on Monday said he believes the nearly created 13th District, which stretches from Urbana to west-central Illinois, is still too conservative to back Gill, a doctor from Bloomington.
"Dr. Gill is a big-government, big-spending liberal," Brady said. "He doesn't fit the district at all."
Gill spokesman Mike Richards said Republicans are overestimating how conservative the district is. Richards said Gill anticipates help from the national Democratic Party this fall.
"Tim Johnson out of the picture makes this a much more winnable race for democrats," Richards said. "We're confident that come fall that this is a race the Democratic Party is going to want to do everything possible to win."
David Bender is the GOP chairman in Logan County and is working with Clarke. He said the effort to replace Johnson should be complete sometime this week.