Staunch conservatives square off in 12th Congressional primary

By Bill Dwyer for Chronicle Media

Mike Bost (Facebook photo)

Darren Bailey (Facebook photo)

Mike Bost and Darren Bailey live more than 100 miles away from each other, but there is little or no distance between them politically.

In the bedrock conservative Illinois 12th Congressional District, which Donald Trump won by a 15-point margin in 2020, both men wave the same deep red GOP flag.

But now, looking to elbow a bit of space between himself and Bost, Bailey is portraying himself as a political outsider who seeks to bring in fresh eyes. Bost, Bailey suggested, had become “too cozy with the establishment.”

Bost replied to Bailey’s criticism recently. “One of us has been there,” he said in a video interview in December with the Quad City Times. “I’ve got experience and that’s a good thing.”

Bost campaign manager Myles Nelson was considerably more acritical in a statement issued in response to Bailey’s announcement last summer, accusing Bailey of “putting selfish opportunism and personal ambition ahead of the interests of Southern Illinois conservatives …”

Whether or not Bost is an “establishment politician,” he is undeniably an established politician, having served for two decades in the Illinois House of Representatives, and rising to the leadership position of House Republican Caucus Chair. In 2015 he was elected to Congress. He won his fifth term in 2022 by a whopping 50 percent, beating his Democratic opponent 75 percent-25 percent.

A former U.S. Marine and volunteer firefighter, Bost is a lifelong resident of Murphysboro, where he and his wife, Tracy, own a small business, the White House Salon.

Bailey, a successful farmer in Xenia, was elected to represent the 109th District of the Illinois House in 2018, and in 2022 was elected to the Illinois Senate, 55th District.

He also ran unsuccessfully to replace Governor J.B. Pritzker.

Bailey’s website touts his goal to “Restore Illinois” and his commitment to “fight for Southern Illinois,” defend Second Amendment rights and “defend the sanctity of life.”

A video on his Facebook page in mid-January posed the question, “Why do people who get elected to a position of service so often forget the people and the promises that got them elected?”

“We let people serve too long,” Bailey said. “We’re letting people make careers out of these positions,” he said. “My opponent originally supported term limits,” he said, without naming Bost.

Bailey blamed Bost for supporting then House Speaker John Boehner (who left Congress more than eight years ago). He also criticized Bost for having “fought hard for (Kevin) McCarthy …” and for working with former Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger “to restrict our Second Amendment rights.”

Despite his name recognition and ultra conservative bona fides, Bailey will be hard pressed to come close to Bost’s support from the Republican establishment. That includes the State Central Committeewoman and Deputy State Central Committeeman for IL-12, as well as 21 Republican county chairs. He’s also been endorsed by numerous State Reps, and several Congressional colleagues.

In December, Bailey was endorsed by 15th District Congresswoman Mary Miller, of Hindsboro, who called him “MAGA to his core.”

Bost is also well ahead in fundraising. As of late last year, Bost had raised just over $1.4 million, more than eight times Bailey, and had $1.17 million on hand, more than 10 times Bailey’s war chest.

On the Democratic side, Preston Nelson, of Lebanon, who has previously run for office as a Libertarian, and Brian Roberts, an attorney from Carbondale, will face each other on the Democratic ballot. Joshua Qualls, who was a primary candidate in 2022, withdrew his candidacy in January, in the face of a petition challenge.