Illinois GOP Finds an Anti-Schock to Replace Aaron Schock

Darin LaHood’s family is steeped in politics, and he championed ethics reform in the state legislature. But some conservatives are wary of him.

Aaron Schock interviewed in his office on Arpil 26, 2012.
National Journal
Jack Fitzpatrick
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Jack Fitzpatrick
March 25, 2015, 1:28 p.m.

Illinois Re­pub­lic­ans may elect a me­dia-shy, eth­ics-fo­cused polit­ic­al scion as their new­est rep­res­ent­at­ive later this year—in oth­er words, the an­ti­thes­is of resign­ing Rep. Aaron Schock, the man be­ing re­placed. But con­ser­vat­ives aren’t all sold on state Sen. Dar­in La­Hood, either, partly be­cause of his fam­ily’s polit­ic­al his­tory.

La­Hood, whose fath­er rep­res­en­ted Illinois’s 18th Dis­trict for more than two dec­ades, has emerged as the early fa­vor­ite to take over from Schock after his os­ten­ta­tious spend­ing habits brought the con­gress­man down. La­Hood could scare off all oth­er ser­i­ous con­tenders be­cause in many ways, he looks like a per­fect fit for a post-scan­dal spe­cial elec­tion.

Start with his fam­ily ped­i­gree. Former Rep. Ray La­Hood, who served as Pres­id­ent Obama’s first Trans­port­a­tion sec­ret­ary, rep­res­en­ted the Pe­or­ia-based dis­trict in un­der­stated fash­ion for more than a dec­ade, a sharp con­trast to the jet-set­ting, big-spend­ing life­style Schock show­cased on In­s­tagram. Be­fore Schock even an­nounced he would resign, Pe­or­ia’s Journ­al Star ed­it­or­i­al board noted that “these eth­ic­al ques­tions nev­er came up with” his pre­de­cessor.

Then there’s La­Hood the young­er’s for­tu­it­ous fo­cus on eth­ics re­form in the state le­gis­lature. La­Hood didn’t have much suc­cess, but it puts him in a per­fect po­s­i­tion to draw a con­trast with Schock, said state Sen. Jason Barick­man, a Re­pub­lic­an col­league who con­sidered but de­cided against a bid for Schock’s seat.

“He’s been out­spoken in call­ing for those re­forms,” Barick­man said. “This is an is­sue that po­ten­tially could dis­tin­guish Dar­in from oth­er can­did­ates.”

But La­Hood’s fa­mili­al and polit­ic­al leg­acy has a down­side, too, which liber­tari­an-lean­ing GOP polit­ic­al op­er­at­ive Mike Flynn said should come up dur­ing the cam­paign.

Al­though Dar­in La­Hood has es­tab­lished a re­l­at­ively con­ser­vat­ive re­cord in the state Sen­ate, his fath­er was a con­sist­ent mod­er­ate. He was one of only three Re­pub­lic­ans to re­fuse to sign then-House Speak­er Newt Gin­grich’s Con­tract with Amer­ica when he first ran for of­fice in 1994, and at the end of his time in the House, be­fore he joined Pres­id­ent Obama’s Cab­in­et, the Club for Growth’s score­card gave Ray La­Hood a life­time score of 36 per­cent.

Flynn, who is con­sid­er­ing run­ning for against Dar­in La­Hood, also noted that his status as the son of a law­maker and bur­eau­crat might not sit well with voters who saw Schock grow out of touch and who want a more down-to-Earth re­place­ment.

“His fath­er was a chief of staff in Con­gress forever, and then was in Con­gress forever,” Flynn said. “It’s like they live in the polit­ic­al world without any con­nec­tion to the real world.”

La­Hood’s of­fice de­clined to set up an in­ter­view and did not re­spond to ques­tions on what his fath­er’s leg­acy would mean in the race. Spokes­wo­man Kar­en Dis­har­oon de­fen­ded his le­gis­lat­ive re­cord in an emailed state­ment.

La­Hood “is dom­in­at­ing the polls be­cause con­ser­vat­ives are en­er­gized for him be­cause he fights for term lim­its, cut­ting gov­ern­ment spend­ing, and lower taxes,” she said. “As a former fed­er­al pro­sec­utor, he’s uniquely po­si­tioned to crack down on the D.C. spe­cial in­terests and lead the charge for eth­ics re­forms and trans­par­ency.”

And even po­ten­tial op­pon­ents ad­mit La­Hood’s strengths. Flynn said he’s def­in­itely a safer op­tion than Schock. “He is much more “¦ what you en­vi­sion of a politi­cian,” Flynn said.

“He does have high name re­cog­ni­tion. He has a lot of points in his fa­vor,” said state Rep. Dan Brady, an­oth­er po­ten­tial can­did­ate. Brady vo­lun­teered for Ray La­Hood’s cam­paign in the 1990s.

But La­Hood’s gov­ern­ment leg­acy will be a tar­get in the spe­cial elec­tion. At­tor­ney Mike Za­l­c­man, a GOP can­did­ate who waged an un­suc­cess­ful state House cam­paign in 2014 and is a long shot to make an im­pact on the con­gres­sion­al race, said he plans on fo­cus­ing his cam­paign on cri­ti­ciz­ing La­Hood’s priv­ileged po­s­i­tion in the party hier­archy.

“The red car­pet’s cer­tainly been rolled out for him,” Za­l­c­man said.

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