SHERMAN, Ill. – State Sen. Darin LaHood won the GOP nomination Tuesday in the race to replace disgraced ex-U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock, defeating an anti-establishment conservative writer in a heavily Republican swath of central Illinois.
LaHood heads into the Sept. 10 special general election as the favorite to succeed Schock, once a rising GOP star, who resigned in March amid intensifying questions about his use of campaign and taxpayer funds.
During the classic Republican primary race, LaHood portrayed himself as far more conservative than his father, former congressman and U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. He received early backing from the state GOP, raised more than the other candidates and picked up key endorsements, including from the National Rifle Association.
But opponent Michael Flynn, who was closely aligned with the late commentator Andrew Breitbart, rallied against the GOP "establishment," saying seats in Congress weren't meant to be handed down.
Still, LaHood said he spent more time on the campaign trail talking about his record as a state senator and former prosecutor than his father. He said residents in the area were frustrated and looking for someone connected to the district.
"People feel there's a disconnect with what goes on in Washington, D.C.," he told The Associated Press in a phone interview before he addressed supporters at a party in Peoria. "They don't want someone who is going to make the same mistakes as the previous congressman."
Schock left office after multiple news reports chronicled the redecoration of his congressional office in the style of the TV show "Downton Abbey," along with questions about his spending on concert tickets and trips for employees and mileage expenses.
The scandal dominated much of the campaign truncated campaign season.
A third Republican, Donald Rients, who works for State Farm, trailed in the balloting. On the Democratic side, high school teacher Robert Mellon won over Springfield school board member Adam Lopez. However, any Democrat will have a tough road in the sprawling GOP district that touches or includes 19 Illinois counties.
Turnout was low for the special primary scheduled in peak summer vacation season, with many counties reporting well below 10 percent.