Democratic candidate in 18th District renews debate challenge to LaHood

Junius Rodriguez, Democratic candidate in the 18th Congressional District, reads a prepared statement Tuesday at Washington Park. Rodriguez appeared at the site of the Lincoln-Douglas Debate monument to serve as a backdrop to his claim that U.S. Rep. Darin LaHood refuses to debate him. | H-W Photo/Jake Shane
By Herald-Whig
Posted: Sep. 13, 2016 8:15 pm Updated: Sep. 14, 2016 8:56 am

QUINCY -- The Democratic nominee in Illinois' 18th Congressional District renewed his challenge Tuesday to U.S Rep. Darin LaHood, R-Dunlap, to participate in four debates before the Nov. 8 election.

During a campaign stop at the Lincoln-Douglas Debate monument in Washington Park, Junius Rodriguez, a history professor from Eureka, said LaHood, who was elected in a special election to replace former U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock, has been unwilling to participate in candidate forums.

Highlighting the legacy of Abraham Lincoln, Rodriguez said residents of the district deserve to hear candidates for Congress argue and defend their views in a public forum.

"This is what the citizens are demanding, and anyone seeking office in Lincoln's old district would be derelict in his duties should he fail to heed this call," he said.

Rodriguez also made campaign stops Tuesday in Peoria and Springfield.

Rodriguez, 59, pointed to debates LaHood participated in before the 2015 special primary and general elections. He debated Democratic congressional candidate Rob Mellon of Quincy at least twice.

The LaHood campaign said he has participated in seven forums or debates with his opponents during the last 15 months.

“He's clearly interested in talking about issues and ideas,” said spokesman Jim Reis. “Neither Mr. Rodriguez nor his campaign have contacted us at all, so this media stunt is the first we're hearing from him.

“We have received invitations from some organizations offering to host a debate and Congressman LaHood is very interested in participating. At this point, it is simply a matter of working out calendar conflicts and finding the right day and format to make a debate happen.”

Rodriguez acknowledged that the race is an uphill climb for him. LaHood won the special election with nearly 69 percent of the vote, and Schock received about 75 percent of the vote in both 2012 and 2014 before resigning his seat because of questions about his use of federal funds. Filings with the Federal Election Commission show LaHood had $463,000 on hand at the end of June, and Rodriguez reported having $13,745. However, he said his cash on hand is now closer to $50,000.

Rodriguez believes the election will be closer than in previous years.

"I think voters on both sides are readily willing to get out and cast their vote," Rodriguez said. "There's a tremendous amount of interest in this election. I think also there is a trend this time ... in which anti-incumbency is alive and well. If the congressman is assuming that he's running for re-election in the same political climate that elected him last year, this is not going to be an election where you get a 9 percent turnout."