Race to replace Schock: GOP State Sen. LaHood vs. Dem teacher Robert Mellon

SHARE Race to replace Schock: GOP State Sen. LaHood vs. Dem teacher Robert Mellon

SHERMAN, Ill. — State Sen. Darin LaHood won the GOP nomination in Tuesday’s primary to replace disgraced ex-U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock, setting up the son of the former U.S. transportation secretary as the likely next congressman in this heavily Republican swath of central Illinois.

LaHood heads into the Sept. 10 special general election heavily favored to succeed Schock after defeating anti-establishment conservative writer Michael Flynn.

During the Republican primary race, LaHood portrayed himself as far more conservative than his father, former congressman and Cabinet member Ray LaHood. He received early backing from the state GOP, raised more than the other candidates and earned key endorsements, including from the National Rifle Association.

But Flynn, who was closely aligned with the late commentator Andrew Breitbart, rallied against the GOP “establishment,” saying seats in Congress weren’t meant to be handed down.

LaHood said he spent more time on the campaign trail talking about his record as a state senator and former prosecutor than his father. He said residents in the area were frustrated and looking for someone connected to the district.

“People feel there’s a disconnect with what goes on in Washington, D.C.,” he told The Associated Press in a phone interview before addressing supporters in Peoria. “They don’t want someone who is going to make the same mistakes as the previous congressman.”

Schock, once a rising GOP star, resigned in March amid intensifying questions about his use of campaign and taxpayer funds. Multiple news reports chronicled the redecoration of his congressional office in the style of the TV show “Downton Abbey,” along with questions about his spending on concert tickets and trips for employees and mileage expenses.

A third Republican, Donald Rients, who works for State Farm, trailed in the balloting.

High school teacher Robert Mellon won the Democratic primary to replace ex-U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock. | Bev Heilwagen/Rob Mellon for Congress campaign via AP

High school teacher Robert Mellon won the Democratic primary to replace ex-U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock. | Bev Heilwagen/Rob Mellon for Congress campaign via AP

On the Democratic side, high school teacher Robert Mellon won the party nomination over Springfield school board member Adam Lopez.

Any Democrat would have a tough road in the sprawling GOP district that touches or includes 19 Illinois counties.

Mellon said he was ready for the challenge.

“I’ve always kind of associated myself with being the underdog,” he said. “I always felt more of a kinship to David. I’m ready to go after Goliath.”

Turnout was dismal for the special primary scheduled in peak summer vacation season. Some county clerks said it was historically low, with many reporting well below 10 percent throughout the day.

Still, the Schock scandal and voter frustration was on voters’ minds as they headed to the polls.

Nancy Norville, 58, a registered nurse, voted for Flynn at a Springfield polling place where there was steady voter traffic during the lunch hour.

“I feel LaHood is a cookie cutter of his dad,” she said. “He’s connected to a lot of lobbyists already and I want a fresh perspective, someone who will fight and listen, more grassroots, versus saying, ‘I’m going to listen,’ and when they get to Washington, they listen to the special interests.”

But retired legislative researcher Sherwin Swartz of Springfield disagreed.

“I admired his father very much, and I’m hoping the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” Swartz said.

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SOPHIA TAREEN AND JOHN O’CONNOR, Associated Press

Tareen reported from Chicago.

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