Three days after former president Donald Trump stumped for her in Illinois, U.S. Rep. Mary Miller won the GOP nomination in the 15th Congressional District, defeating fellow incumbent U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis.
With 83% of the estimated vote counted, Miller had 57.5% of the vote to Davis' 42.5%. It was a resounding victory for the freshman congresswoman facing the five-term incumbent.
Miller, a farmer from Oakland, will face Paul Lange, a Democratic precinct committeeman from Quincy, in the Nov. 8 general election. But she is all but assured of victory in the district that is 67% Republican.
The incumbent-on-incumbent lineup was a result of redistricting. The state lost a congressional district in the 2020 census and this pitted the pair against one another.
Davis issued this statement Tuesday night: "I'd like to congratulate Congresswoman Miller and President Trump on their victory tonight. This was a hard-fought campaign, and I wish her the best in representing the citizens of the 15th District.
"It's been the honor of a lifetime to serve the people of Illinois. I'm proud of the work our team has done for our constituents since 2013. Helping citizens cut through red tape and navigate the federal bureaucracy has always been one of my top priorities.
"We have delivered countless conservative policy solutions from historic tax cuts, student loan relief, farm programs and investing in our transportation system.
"We've always worked to govern and make Washington work. As Republicans are poised to retake the House, it's paramount that Republicans in Congress work to end dysfunction and deliver results for the American people."
Trump gave his speech endorsing Miller to a "Make America Great Again," or MAGA, crowd of thousands at the Adams County Fairgrounds in Mendon June 25.
Republican analysts debated among themselves as to what extent Trump's visit would help Miller.
"The polling is pretty clear on this. If Republican voters know that Donald Trump has endorsed her, the race favors Mary Miller. But if they don't know, it favors Rodney Davis," Patrick Pfingsten, a GOP political consultant, said the day following the rally.
One poll taken shortly before the Trump visit showed Davis 1 percentage point ahead.
But Mike Lawrence, former executive director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, said he is skeptical of all polling done in primaries. He added Republican primary voters tend to be much more conservative than those who vote in general elections. This makes it difficult for pollsters to develop an accurate sample of those who will actually request a partisan ballot.
Davis is conservative but has avoided confrontational far-right politics. Whether it's taxes, guns, abortion or any of the other GOP litmus tests, Davis has consistently voted in a conservative manner.
But that didn't keep Miller from branding Davis a RINO – Republican in Name Only.
The term is a long-used one hurled against Republicans seen as not part of the conservative wing of the party. But since the political emergence of Trump, it has taken on a new meaning: anyone who is not a staunch Trump defender or is not an election denier or not a likely backer of his comeback 2024 presidential bid.
An apparent verbal flub on Miller's part became national headlines when at the Trump rally she made this attack on Davis:
"President Trump, on behalf of all the MAGA patriots in America, I want to thank you for the historic victory for white life in the Supreme Court yesterday. Our victories for life and the Second Amendment would have (never) been possible if the never Trump RINOs had gotten their way. I'm running against a RINO named Rodney Davis who betrayed conservatives."
Following the speech, a Miller spokesman told NBC News the congresswoman misread her notes and meant to say "right to life" rather than "white life."
This isn't the first time Miller, whose district includes about one-third of the Illinois counties, including part of Sangamon, has stirred controversy with her words. She made a remark in a 2021 speech that appeared to praise Adolf Hitler. She later apologized for that comment.
While Davis was gracious in defeat, the afternoon of election day he predicted victory and had harsh words for his opponent, who has avoided reporters' questions throughout her campaign.
"She doesn't want to answer questions. ... If more members of Congress like her continue to get elected, then that will become the norm – rather than somebody like me – who will stand up and take the tough questions," he said.
Republican consultant Pfingsten, a vocal critic of Miller, said she obviously misspoke Saturday. But because she has fostered a hostile relationship with the press, reporters covering the event were less likely to give her a break. He added her association with the House Freedom Caucus, whose members are known to make outrageous claims, further complicates the narrative.
Among Miller's allies in the caucus are Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Georgian who suggested in a Facebook post that wildfires in California were not natural.
In a now-deleted post from November 2018, Greene suggested that the blazes were started by former California Gov. Jerry Brown, Pacific Gas & Electric and Rothschild Inc., an investment firm frequently targeted by anti-Semitic conspiracy theorists. She speculated that laser beams from space were used to clear the way for a high-speed rail project, sparking the blazes.
Greene is said to have urged Trump to endorse Miller.
Lauren Boebert, the congresswoman from Colorado who falsely accused a Muslim member of Congress of being a terrorist, also is a member of the Freedom Caucus and spoke at the Trump event Saturday.
"Again, it comes back to these people being members of the 'Kook Klux Klan,'" Pfingsten said. "They are much more interested in being celebrities than being effective in office."
Scott Reeder, a staff writer for Illinois Times, can be reached at email@example.com.