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Mayor Lori Lightfoot kicks off DC visit with Illinois lawmakers dinner in Sen. Dick Durbin’s Capitol office. From left, Sen. Tammy Duckworth; Rep. Jan Schakowsky; Rep. Danny Davis; Lightfoot; Durbin; Rep. Robin Kelly; Rep. Rodney Davis; Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia.
Photo by Lynn Sweet

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At Sen. Durbin event for Mayor Lightfoot, GOP Rep. Rodney Davis swings by and makes bold prediction

Republican Davis doubts the new congressional maps Illinois state Dems created will actually yield 14 Democratic districts.

WASHINGTON – Mayor Lori Lightfoot is in DC through Friday, kicking off her visit on Tuesday night with a dinner Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., hosted for the delegation in his Capitol office, and – to my surprise – since usually only Democrats show up at this sort of thing – in walked GOP Rep. Rodney Davis.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s been ages since the delegation dined together. Pre- COVID, Durbin hosted lunches about once a month, and as the years flowed by, most of the regular attendees have been the delegation’s Democrats.

Earlier Tuesday, Davis made it official, announcing he would run again for the U.S. House and not jump into the governor’s race. There was a friendly vibe as he bantered with Rep. Robin Kelly, chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Illinois, and others; that might not have been possible if he was making a bid to defeat Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

After a group photo, Davis didn’t stick around for the dinner because, he told me, he was hosting a fundraiser for his congressional re-election campaign. Before he left, Davis made a bold political prediction, and I’ll get to that in a few paragraphs, so stay with me.

And speaking of fundraising – Lightfoot’s trip here is mainly for government business. But she does have two fundraisers planned; one on Wednesday and another event on Thursday.

Lightfoot flew to DC for a series of meetings in the Capitol and White House related to the pandemic and figuring out more details on how the Biden administration intends to distribute the money in the $1 trillion infrastructure bill.

There will be gobs of rules and strings attached, that’s how these things work. Still, the state of lllinois as a whole will get $17 billion with hundreds of millions – there is no price estimate yet - eventually flowing to the city of Chicago and related agencies, such as the CTA.

I asked Lightfoot about her priorities for the infrastructure cash: expansion of the CTA Red Line from 95th to 130th streets, speeding up lead water pipe removal in the city and bringing broadband access to internet deserts in the city.

“Broadband access is also really important in the city ... A lot of people talk about it as being a rural issue; it is an urban, city issue, and it is definitely a big issue for us in Chicago,” Lightfoot said, especially on the South Side.

Lightfoot on Wednesday has meetings at the Commerce Department and with Susan Rice, President Joe Biden’s White House Domestic Policy Council director.

Lightfoot was also invited to the White House Wednesday event marking World AIDS Day. There is a giant red ribbon on the north entrance to the White House.

The Chicago Sun-Times has also learned that while in Washington, Lightfoot will meet with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and White House Senior Advisor and Infrastructure Coordinator Mitch Landrieu.

RODNEY DAVIS AND THAT 14-3 DEMOCRATIC MAP. NOT SO FAST

Davis was the only Republican to show up at Durbin’s dinner, and he mingled with the Democrats - Lightfoot, Kelly, Sen. Tammy Duckworth, Rep. Jan Schakowsky, Rep. Danny Davis and Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia. Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi arrived after Rodney Davis left.

State Democratic mapmakers designed a congressional map they hope will yield 14 Democratic and 3 Republican districts, seats needed if the Democrats are to retain control of the House. Pelosi has only a three- or four-member edge, so it won’t take a lot in 2022 to flip the House.

Not so fast on that 14-3 outcome Democrats are claiming they will have, Davis told me.

Davis is running from a safe Republican district Dems drew essentially for him to keep him in Washington and out of Springfield. As an enticement, they didn’t toss him in with another GOP incumbent.

“My first preference was to run for re-election,” Davis said. “But in the end, I didn’t set the political battlefield; it was the Democrats in Springfield.”

Some of those 14 districts have Democratic supermajorities; the Democratic edge in two or three other districts outside of Chicago is much thinner, and I asked Davis – we were out of earshot from the others - about their potential as swing districts.

“I’ll be happy to say very loudly here, we are going to compete in a lot more districts then what the Democrats in Springfield who drew this map thought we would,” he said.

I asked Davis if he had GOP recruits. “Working on that every day,” he replied.

The balancing act will be to recruit a Republican who could survive a GOP primary where allegiance to former President Donald Trump will be an issue – and still be appealing to Democratic crossover or swing voters. Exhibit A: Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., a leading Trump critic is not seeking another term. He would have had a hard time winning a primary.

Said Davis, “I’m just looking forward to being able to be a chair in the next Congress when we take the majority.”

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