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Kinzinger faces challenger from Rockford Tea Party

In 2012, the two candidates in the Republican primary election for the 16th Congressional District argued over who was more conservative. It’s happening again in 2014.

In 2012, the race was between longtime incumbent Don Manzullo of Egan and first-term Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Channahon, who had represented the 11th Congressional District for two years.

In 2011, the Democratic-run state Legislature redrew boundaries to put both men in the 16th District, which includes most of DeKalb County, including the cities of DeKalb and Genoa. The redistricting packed as many Republican voters as possible from the region into the 16th District so that other districts could go Democratic.

The strategy worked.

In the primary, Kinzinger knocked off Manzullo, a 20-year incumbent. Kinzinger made the case that he was more conservative, ready to cut back government and taxes, a message that worked well with the tea party.

In the general election, Kinzinger handily defeated a poorly-funded Democratic rival.

These days, the tea party isn’t so happy with the 36-year-old Kinzinger, whom they see as capitulating to President Barack Obama. Kinzinger has voted for deals to increase the debt limit, although not in the most recent instance. In that case, he joined with the great majority of House Republicans to oppose their own leadership, who struck an agreement with Obama to raise the debt limit with practically no concessions from the White House.

In the March 18 Republican primary, Kinzinger has one opponent, David Hale, founder of the Rockford Tea Party.

So far, Kinzinger has raised nearly $1 million for the campaign, mostly from the special interest groups that shower money on incumbents. Hale has less than $5,000.

National groups such as FreedomWorks, Heritage PAC and the Club for Growth are known to fund challengers to Republican incumbents who are considered insufficiently conservative. They have given nothing to Hale, which likely means they believe Kinzinger has a lock on the seat.

Hale, 51, said he didn’t mind the lack of donations from the major conservative groups.

“It helps me be much more independent,” he said. “Nothing against those groups. I don’t like PACs in general. When you take money from them, you are bound and chained to do what they tell you to do.”

Kinzinger and other Republican House members, Hale said, are moving away from conservatism in the hopes of gaining Democratic votes.

“They have turned into the Republican surrender caucus,” he said.

Kinzinger disputes that.

“I guess it depends on how you define conservatism,” Kinzinger said. “I don’t govern to special interest groups. I govern for the 16th District and the nation.

“I guess in that way, you could say I have an independent streak.”

Kinzinger’s recent vote against the debt limit increase, Hale contended, was the result of Hale’s candidacy.

“My record shows I’m fiscally conservative,” Kinzinger said. “I’m not willing to shut down government; that’s not a positive move forward. Saying you’re never going to vote to raise the debt limit is irresponsible.”

Generally, Hale, a U.S. Army veteran, calls for drastic cuts in government spending, but he said he draws the line at pay and benefits for the military, although he previously proposed withholding all military benefits until veterans turn 58.

Kinzinger has touted his support for the military. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force after graduating college graduation in 2003, served two tours in Iraq and was later awarded his pilot wings. He continues to serve as a pilot in the Air National Guard, holding the rank of major.

“The reality is, we have to have grown-up, adult discussions on these issues,” Kinzinger said.

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