Gill, Goetten Battling for IL-13th Dem Nomination
Two Democrats hope to take advantage of the new congressional map as they try to unseat entrenched Republican Tim Johnson. Pundits say whoever wins the primary next week has a solid chance of winning in November.
The new 13th congressional district is among those crafted by Illinois Democrats so the six-term GOP incumbent Tim Johnson would be vulnerable.
The re-drawn Congressional district contains Champaign-Urbana, Bloomington-Normal, Decatur and Springfield, and trades away Republican strongholds in the northern part of the old 15th district in exchange for Democratically-leaning Madison county and Metro East.
One of the Democratic candidates in the race is Greene County State's Attorney Matt Goetten.
"I've been a prosecutor the last eight years, the last seven as the Greene County States Attorney," Goetten said, touting his experience. "I'm a veteran of Afghanistan. I've been in the Illinois Army National Guard the last 13 years and more recently I transferred to the Air National Guard. I've been a small business owner. I have been an educator. I was a high school teacher for a short time."
Goetten's opponent is David Gill, the Bloomington emergency room physician who is taking his fourth shot at unseating Johnson. Gill said he has a solid shot this time because the district looks so different.
"If the map hadn't changed, if it was still Illinois 15, I don't know that I was going to keep beating my head against the wall," Goetten said. "God bless Ford County and Douglas County and Iroqouis County, but there are places there where God with a "D" after his name couldn't beat Satan with an "R" after his name."
Those areas are not a factor anymore, but included in the new 13th are predominantly rural areas in other traditionally-leaning Republican areas of Greene, Jersey and Macoupin counties. Gill said he is confident he can perform well there.
"I've lived in rural areas in the past and a lot of that is farming country, rural country. There's a way of life there that I think is very similar to what they have in Carrollton, Jerseyville and Carlinville," Gill said. "I feel very comfortable in those environments as I've been traveling these last seven months."
Despite that presence, Gill's name is recognized primarily in parts of the old 15th district--Champaign, Bloomington and Clinton.
Goetten is the son of Greene County's former State's Attorney. Norbert Goetten, and his brother, Benjamin Goetten, holds the same office in neighboring Jersey County.
The Goetten family is well connected in the Democratic Party and that connection helped lead to an unprecedented endorsement from Illinois' U.S. Senator, Dick Durbin.
"The part of the district where he's from traditionally would lean Republican, but he's gonna do well there," Durbin said. "I thought that may give him a slight advantage when it comes to the overall congressional district."
Gill campaign spokesman, Mike Richards said he was disappointed to see Durbin endorsing Goetten.
"But we're confident that David is going to win this primary because he's the only candidate who's been standing up for women's rights," Richards said. "He's been endorsed by the national NOW and he's the only candidate who is 100 percent pro-choice."
It is clear that Gill is highlighting Goetten's Catholic faith as a wedge between two candidates who, as even Goetten acknowledges, take very similar stances on many major issues.
Name recognition and political experience might be the key factor in this race, according to Illinois State University political scientist Erik Rankin, himself a Democrat and a member of the McLean County Board.
Rankin noted the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is backing Goetten, and he says it is likely because Gill has already taken his three strikes at getting to Washington.
"The D triple C (Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee) and the national party has just gotten to the point where they're looking at this race and going we're gonna put our eggs in the basket of the unknown rather than what we already know and assume to be the eventual loser," Rankin said.
Nevertheless, Gill said he's buoyed by strong grass roots support.
Gill said Macon County Republicans took the unusual step of voting on endorsement right after a joint appearance by both candidates, and he said the result was 50 Gill votes and none for Goetten.
On defense issues, both say the military budget should be open for cuts, though Goetten said he agrees with Defense Secretary Panetta that current proposed cuts aren't sustainable.
"We can shrink the military," Goetten said. "But I don't know that we can do that without sacrificing our ability to what we've been trying to do for the past ten years which is wage wars in two theaters of operation."
Both Gill and Goetten fervently attack GOP incumbent Tim Johnson.
Goetten said voters clearly want a change and Gill said Johnson lacks principle and cites Johnson's reversal on term limits, and his change of heart away from supporting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Johnson faces what appears to be token opposition in the primary from challengers Michael Firsching and Frank Metzger. But he could very well have the political fight of his life on his hands in November.
(Photos by Sean Powers/WILL)