The last time a sitting Illinois Republican congressperson faced a real primary challenge from a non-incumbent was more than seven years ago, when then-state Senator Kyle McCarter (R-Lebanon) challenged US Representative John Shimkus (R-Collinsville). Even so, nobody really thought McCarter had much of a chance, and, as expected, he ended up losing to Shimkus by more than 20 points.

We’ve seen reapportionment-related GOP primaries between congressional incumbents - the most recent being U.S. Representative Rodney Davis’s 2022 crushing loss to fellow US Representative Mary Miller (no relation) — but serious challenges of sitting Republican U.S. Representatives are otherwise fairly rare here.

Mike Bost is now finding himself in that fairly rare territory. The four-term Congressman from southern Illinois gained national renown after throwing a paper copy of an Illinois House bill into the air during an angry floor tirade against reducing public employee pensions. Bost is now up against former state legislator Darren Bailey, who two-upped Bost by posting an online video of himself shooting a paper copy of a state budget bill with a high-powered assault rifle, and then posted another video of him taking a flame-thrower to a budget bill.

Bailey is Bost-plus. He is Guns N' Roses to Bost’s Bon Jovi. The crewcut candidate pledged undying fealty to Donald Trump on a hot, sweaty public stage when the then-President publicly endorsed him for governor last year. He’ll run as an outsider against a career politician who has held public office for 28 years. And, just last year, well over 200 million dollars was spent for and against Bailey in the governor’s race, some of it by the same person (Governor JB Pritzker). That adds up to a whole lot of name recognition for Bailey as he enters this contest.

But Bailey is also a not-great fundraiser. Bost recently claimed to have $1 million campaign cash on hand. Bailey only raised a couple of million dollars for the 2022 general election (much of it in large contributions from his family) outside of the money he got from billionaire Richard Uihlein, who chose to spend most of his pro-Bailey money via a Dan Proft independent expenditure committee. There were no state contribution caps in that 2022 race, but congressional contribution caps are both stringent and low, and they don’t allow family members and billionaires to dump lots of cash. Unless some rich people come in with big-time dark money, Bailey will be running a shoestring race against Bost.

Bost can also count on the National Republican Congressional Committee, which runs a well-funded incumbent protection program. “Darren Bailey moved to a downtown Chicago penthouse to get blown out by JB Pritzker, now he’s back seeking another political promotion,” said NRCC spokesperson Chris Gustafson when Bailey announced against Bost. “Mike Bost is focused on delivering conservative results for Southern Illinois and that's why voters will re-elect him.”

Representative Bost has also lined up about half the Republican county sheriffs in his district, plus a couple of retired sheriffs. Those folks loved Darren Bailey last year, but are sticking with Bost this time around. Bost received 75 percent of the vote last November, compared to Bailey’s 72.5 percent in the district against Pritzker. And Bost was recently endorsed by National Right to Life, which he described as “America's oldest and largest pro-life organization.”

Bost knows how to speak to “the base,” calling out “Joe Biden and the crazy liberals in Congress,” and their “woke, radical agenda” for “causing chaos with our economy, confusion in our schools, and a crisis at our southern border,” during his reelection announcement. Bost also said that while the district needs a fighter, “We've got enough show horses in Washington as it is; that's why I remain laser focused on serving the people and delivering real results for Southern Illinois, the place I've proudly called home my entire life.”

Bailey did not bother delivering any results when he was in the state legislature, other than making people feel good about voting for him. But he’s extremely adept at that task, so he probably doesn’t need a whole lot of money to remain competitive. He has authentic far-right street cred coming out his ears.

Cor Strategies, which polls for Republicans, released a poll last week showing the incumbent Bost ahead of Bailey 43-37. A Bost win could help show other “work horse” conservative Republicans how to fend off “show horse” insurgents. A Bailey win would once again illustrate the party’s far-rightward lurch.


Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and

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