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WGLT's reporting on the November 2020 election cycle.

LaHood Defeats Petrilli To Earn 3rd Term in Congress

Darin and George
U.S. Rep. Darin LaHood, left, easily won re-election Tuesday over Democratic challenger George Petrilli.

Republican U.S. Rep. Darin LaHood easily won a third term in the 18th Congressional District, defeating Democrat George Petrilli.

With 95% of the vote in late Tuesday, LaHood had earned 237,367 votes to 94,471 for Petrilli, or 72% to 28%. But the strong lead came early, with The Associated Press calling the race by 9:30 p.m.

In the 2016 and 2018 congressional races, LaHood also won more than 70% of the vote, overwhelmingly keeping the seat in GOP hands. 

LaHood’s latest win, and any GOP win in the 18th District, isn't a shock: Out of 435 congressional districts, Illinois’ 18th is considered the 84th most Republican district, according to the most recent Cook Political Report’s Partisan Voter Index.

The district covers a huge swath of central and western Illinois, stretching from McLean County to Peoria to the Mississippi River border towns like Quincy. It encompasses 14 counties and parts of five others.

LaHood, of Dunlap, called the overwhelming support from his constituents humbling. But he said the support has been earned because he is a great cheerleader for the needs of the district.

“I also think it reflects the fact that people want us to go (to Washington, D.C.) and get results. And we’ve worked hard on trade agreements for our farmers and manufacturers. We’ve worked hard on health care, and bringing tax relief to the American people and my district,” he said. 

When he returns to for the next Congress-- epresenting an area that covers parts of Bloomington-Normal, Peoria and Springfield--LaHood likely will find himself in an environment painted a stronger shade of blue. 

“Regardless of what it looks like, we’re going to have a divided government. And I think that’s healthy for our democracy,” he said, adding the American people want lawmakers to come together and collaborate.

“We need more bipartisanship,” he said, especially when it comes to the next stimulus bill. LaHood said the “Clean Start” bill is an example of civility between the parties. He cosponsored the bill that focuses on lowering the cost of COVID-protection gear, with U.S. Rep Stephanie Murphy, a Florida Democrat.

LaHood is an honorary co-chair of Trump's re-election committee in Illinois.

Longshot campaign

Petrilli, a Springfield attorney raised in central Illinois, said he knew his chances of defeating LaHood were slim, but he still was glad to have given 18th District voters a choice. Earlier this fall, Petrilli described the district as being gerrymandered in a way that was a disservice to voters.

On Tuesday night, Petrilli called LaHood’s win disappointing. But he said the election didn’t mark the end of his public service--he sees it as just the beginning. 

“It won’t be as a candidate. But I’ll still be very involved in improving the district,” said Petrilli. “I know from talking to people we have issues in our district that aren’t getting attention."

He pointed to fears of losing health care and economic distress as two key issues of concern. LaHood has said publicly that he does not support the Affordable Care Act.

Petrilli said LaHood might not have a district seat for long, regardless of the win, because of the possibility it may not even survive post-2020 Census redistricting. With Illinois’ population shrinking, the state likely will send one less House member. Political experts predict residents of the 18th District will be spread across other downstate districts. 

Petrilli told WGLT that LaHood didn’t really have motivation to listen to constituents, given his almost guaranteed win. When one party or another has so much control, an elected official has no accountability to the district’s constituents, he said.

Born and raised in Peoria, LaHood first won a seat in Congress in 2015, following a special election to fill the seat vacated by then-Rep. Aaron Schock. Prior to joining Congress, LaHood served as a state lawmaker and as a federal prosecutor.

Michele Steinbacher is a WGLT correspondent. She joined the staff in 2020.
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