U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock says he hasn’t decided whether to run for governor next year, but the Republican from Peoria is sounding and behaving like a candidate.
Consider a press availability session held last week after a luncheon meeting of the Sangamon County Republican Network at Saputo’s restaurant in downtown Springfield last week.
The meeting was closed to reporters except for Bernard Schoenburg of the State Journal-Register, who said that he gained access by calling Schock’s office and asking if he could listen to the congressman’s remarks despite a press release issued by Schock’s staff stating that the event was closed to the media.
It is the sort of thing risk-averse politicians on the make often do, and Schock has learned that being bold isn’t always being smart. In announcing his first campaign for Congress in 2007, Schock told supporters that the United States should give nuclear weapons to Taiwan if China wouldn’t support economic sanctions against Iran in an effort to curb nuclear proliferation. Schock was forced to admit that he was wrong less than a week after Schoenburg got a copy of the speech and wrote a story just as the campaign was getting started.
Peoria, however, is a long ways from China, and the gaffe hardly mattered in a solidly Republican district. Schock cruised to victory in 2008 and has twice easily won reelection. But winning a statewide contest is an entirely different matter, which might explain why Schock didn’t break much new ground when addressing reporters.
On the same day that former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords told the Senate Judiciary Committee to do something about guns because too many children are dying, Schock ducked when reporters asked him about firearms.
The problem, Schock said, is inadequate funding for mental health. On the other hand, he said he was prepared to have a conversation about guns. Then again, he didn’t want to get into specifics.
Asked about universal background checks to ensure that anyone buying a gun from a private party would be checked the same way as buyers who do business with a licensed gun dealer, Schock answered, “I’m open to that.” But he didn’t sound like a leader as he said that he wanted to see what legislation is approved by the Senate.
“Obviously, the devil is always in the details,” said Schock, who has won endorsements from the National Rifle Association. “Let’s see what the Senate is going to produce. They said they’re going to do something in the next six months.”
What about high-capacity magazines? Schock said he wouldn’t comment on specific legislation, and he refused to say whether he favored a ban on magazines that can hold 20 rounds or more.
“Because it’s all hypothetical,” Schock answered.
“Twenty rounds is not hypothetical,” a reporter responded. “Are you in favor of a ban?”
“I’m not going to get into specific pieces of legislation,” Schock repeated.
Asked why he has opposed gay marriage, Schock faltered, saying “Well, I just haven’t” then falling silent. Pushed for a reason, the congressman had this to offer:
“I think everybody has a set of beliefs on issues, social issues in particular, that are a reflection of how they were raised and their set of beliefs,” Schock said. “First, I would say it’s probably more (a matter) of my upbringing and faith values. So that’s number one. Number two, I think we’re all a reflection of who we represent. And then third, I think why you’re seeing some of these changes in laws is because people’s views in society have changed.”
Schock said anyone who is considering a run for any political office in 2014 should make up their mind within six months.
“I am looking at where I think I can do the most good,” Schock said. “If I decide I think I can do the most good and be successful at running for governor, then I’ll make that decision. If I think I can do the most good where I am currently in Congress, then I’ll seek reelection to the seat.”
That a potential candidate wouldn’t stake out hard-and-fast positions more than a year before an election isn’t surprising, says Kent Redfield, a professor emeritus of political studies at University of Illinois Springfield. What a candidate says often depends on their opponent or opponents, he said.
“Campaigns are always relational – who else is in the field?” Redfield said. “How is so-and-so as a candidate? Tell me who they’re running against. … I think at this point, not knowing what the field looks like, people are going to be cautious.”
Schock is a viable candidate who is banking on being a fresh face, Redfield said, but any candidate for the governor’s office must have good answers to inevitable questions.
“You can’t fumble around,” Redfield said. “Part of what’s going on is there’s going to be an assessment of whether he’s gubernatorial. He has to convince people that he’s ready for prime time. Everything becomes an audition from this point out.”
Contact Bruce Rushton at firstname.lastname@example.org.