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Lynn Sweet: Kinzinger big story of 2021; preview of Illinois politics in 2022

To watch in 2022: Can GOP billionaire Ken Griffin buy the Illinois GOP governor primary?

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), vice-chair of the select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, and Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) listen during a committee meeting on Capitol Hill on Dec. 1, 2021.
Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), vice-chair of the select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, and Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) listen during a committee meeting on Capitol Hill on Dec. 1, 2021.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

WASHINGTON — The Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol transformed Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., from a conspiracy fighter to one of the few elected Republicans in the entire nation willing to take on the Trump wing of the GOP, resulting in the end of his career in the House. The arc of that story is one of the biggest I covered in 2021.

Here’s my review of Kinzinger’s extraordinary 2021 and a 2022 Illinois political preview:

Kinzinger’s big year

Kinzinger was already pushing back against the conspiracy theories taking root within elements of his Republican party when the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection occurred. The next day, Kinzinger called for invoking the 25th Amendment on the grounds that then-President Donald Trump was “unmoored.” On Jan. 13, Kinzinger was one of 10 Republicans voting to impeach Trump over the attack.

At the end of January, Kinzinger, from Channahon, launched his Country First “movement” to reclaim the Republican Party from the forces leading to the Capitol riot and to provide a counter to Trump’s grip on the GOP. By July, Kinzinger and Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., were the leading national GOP voices against what became Trump’s rampant election denialism and attempts to whitewash his role in trying to deny Joe Biden the presidency.

In July, Kinzinger and Cheney became the only two Republicans to serve on the Democratic-created Jan. 6 select committee probing the pro-Trump mob trying to stop Congress from formalizing Biden’s election.

Trump and his allies promised revenge, making Kinzinger’s ability to win a GOP 2022 primary in Illinois difficult no matter where Democrats in Springfield put Kinzinger in their new congressional remap. After being thrown in a district with Rep. Darin LaHood, R-Ill., in October, Kinzinger said he would not seek another House term.

And with that, let’s look at the year ahead:

New Illinois primary date

In 2022, the Illinois primary will be June 28, not the usual mid-March date, the delay due to finalizing remaps based on the 2020 Census. The first day to circulate petitions for the primary is Jan. 13, which means the long primary season kicks off in a few weeks.

Statewide run not expected for Kinzinger

For most of 2021, Kinzinger said he may run for governor or senator if the Springfield Dems carved up his district, which they did. I predict Kinzinger will not seek statewide office in 2022.

Illinois Congress primary showdowns

The biggest Chicago area Democratic primary will be a hard-hitting contest between incumbent Reps. Marie Newman of LaGrange and Sean Casten from Downers Grove.

Looking downstate: With options limited, Rep. Mary Miller, R-Ill., of Oakland — an ally of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., a leading conspiracy theorist and Trump enabler — is boxed in and has to decide which GOP incumbent to run against, Rep. Rodney Davis of Taylorsville or Rep. Mike Bost from Murphysboro.

Duckworth in strong position for reelection

Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., is seeking a second term in 2022, and no Republican of note is running so far and none are on the horizon.

New Illinois Democratic Party Chair Kelly faces reelection

With a federal corruption probe hanging over Mike Madigan, 2021 marked the end of him running the Democratic Party of Illinois. New chair Rep. Robin Kelly, filling Madigan’s unexpired term, must stand for reelection after the June primary.

Pritzker gives millions to state House, Senate political shops; nothing to DPI

Democratic billionaire Gov. J.B. Pritzker — who did not back Kelly for party chair — is seeking a second term in 2022. This month, state records show he donated $2 million to the state House political operation. Pritzker campaign spokesperson Natalie Edelstein told me he also contributed $1 million to the state Senate political shop.

Pritzker has donated nothing so far this year to the state Democratic party.

Can Griffin buy Illinois GOP governor primary?

Crime, Trump loyalty and abortion will be major issues in the GOP Illinois governor primary.

So far, five Republicans are mulling a governor run; only a plurality is needed for the nomination.

The primary will test whether GOP billionaire Ken Griffin’s promise to spend millions to defeat Pritzker determines the nominee in this post-Trump era.

Griffin’s team is focusing on Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin — unknown and untested in the Chicago media market. Irvin’s pulling of Democratic primary ballots in 2014, 2016 and 2020 will be used to question his GOP credentials and Trump loyalty and how strongly he opposed abortion. If Irvin veers Trumpist right, it will be difficult for him to beat Pritzker.