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In Illinois, MAGA Congresswoman Rallies to Oust Her G.O.P. Colleague

MENDON, Illinois — As she stood next to former President Donald J. Trump at a packed rally on a blistering evening here in the fields of west-central Illinois, Representative Mary Miller bellowed the stakes of her primaries.

“My friends, this race is between MAGA and a RINO establishment member,” said Ms. Miller, using the unabashed acronym associated with Mr Trump’s political movement and the scornful acronym intended to refer to a “Republican in name only”.

Four years ago, it was Mrs. Miller, Representative Rodney Davis, who stood next to Mr. Trump to get his approval as the then president came to the state to rally his supporters.

But that was before the Democrat-led Illinois legislature overran the state’s congressional districts, transforming Mr. Davis’ purple district, once a top target of the Democrats, into a highly conservative district occupying about a third of the state. and Mrs Miller without a seat.

Now the two Republicans find themselves in an extraordinary incumbent-incumbent battle that has forced Mr. Davis to embrace his conservative credentials — after nearly a decade of being a political liability in a district divided equally between Republicans and Republicans. Democrats — and left him open to attacks from Ms. Miller, who has ridiculed his efforts to reach down the aisle to pass legislation and his willingness to certify President Biden’s 2020 election victory.

The contest, which culminates in Tuesday’s Illinois primaries, is a test whose strongest force is in the current Republican Party: Mr. Davis’s traditional conservatism and pragmatic style, or Ms. Miller’s inflammatory appeal, with Mr Trump as her patron, to the hard right flank.

“Do they want someone who sticks to his or her core values ​​and principles, but also goes out to rule?” Mr. Davis asked in an interview at his Springfield campaign office. “Because there is a clear difference between my opponent and me when it comes to actually legislating. I really want Washington to work for every American.”

The careers of Mrs. Miller and Mr. Davis in Congress are a study in contrasts. Mr. Davis, a four-term congressman who got his start in politics and worked in the constituent services, advocates for his track record and mastery of the Agriculture Act, a multi-year bill that allows policymakers to prioritize the food industry. and agricultural sectors and a crucial piece of legislation in a predominantly rural area.

He is very conservative and accentuates his comments with asides condemning the default of the police movement and California Democrat Nancy Pelosi. But for years he has managed to fend off democratic challenges by touting his two-pronged work in areas such as agriculture and student loans.

“The difficulty in that race is that Rodney has been running in a 50-50 district for the past eight years,” said Illinois Republican Representative Darin LaHood, who has supported Mr. Davis. “He had to be a moderate. He had to rule in the middle. And so turning around and then going into one of the most conservative, rural Trump districts in the country is really hard for him.

For Ms. Miller, whose campaign has not responded to requests for an interview or comment, such a pivot is not even necessary.

She is a first term congressman and runs a cattle and grain farm. She is a member of the far-right Freedom Caucus that has adopted Mr Trump’s grievance-soaked way of speaking and once spoke approvingly of Adolf Hitler. Throughout the campaign trail, she has made the former president’s support the centerpiece of her speech, often lamenting how the “fraud” in elected office has “betrayed” the American people.

At the meeting here Saturday night with Mr. Trump, Ms. Miller’s campaign played videos of Mr. Davis wearing a mask at the height of the pandemic, saying he was “proud” to meet Mr. Biden to discuss infrastructure projects. that would benefit his district, and embraces Wyoming Republican Rep. Liz Cheney, who helped lead the home investigation into the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

“The global elites are determined to destroy our way of life, including the family farm,” Ms Miller told the crowd. “We will not allow them to destroy us. We are American. This is our beautiful country and we will never surrender to the Marxists in Washington.”

Later in the speech, Mrs. Miller called Friday’s Supreme Court decision to take down Roe v. Wade a “victory for white life” in a clip widely circulated after the meeting. According to Ms. Miller’s campaign, she had misread her prepared comments and meant to say “right to life.” But it recalled an earlier episode shortly after Ms. Miller was sworn into Congress, when she had to apologize for saying, “Hitler was right about one thing: He said, ‘He who has the youth, has the future.'”

On Monday, she tried to defend herself against a wave of criticism after her comments at the rally, tell a local radio station: “I’m not a racist.”

To rally the kind of far-right voters who end up in the primaries, Ms. Miller has also claimed that Mr. Davis “betrayed” Mr. Trump on Jan. 6, first by refusing to undo Mr Biden’s election victory, and later by vote with 34 of his Republican colleagues to set up a bipartisan commission made up of impartial experts on Jan. 6 to investigate the attack on the Capitol.

“He voted to confirm the election,” Ms Miller told a crowd of retirees at a campaign event in Lincoln, exposing Mr Davis’ alleged sins. “Then, for those of us who asked for audits, he said we were spreading misinformation.”

Mr. Davis, in his role as the top Republican on the House Administrative Committee, had initially worked with Democrats to set up an independent committee to investigate the Jan. 6 riots, but Republican leaders dropped that effort. ultimately dropped out and opposed the creation of such an investigation, prompting Democrats to form their own select panel.

As his primary contest has intensified, Mr. Davis has become increasingly vocal in criticizing the select committee, accusing members of having a “one-sided debate” and making false accusations about Republican lawmakers taking their voters on tours of the United States before January. would take the Capitol. 6 to study the layout of the building.

He said the accusation “literally makes my blood boil.”

But Ms. Miller has ignored such nuances on the campaign trail, telling voters that Mr. Davis “voted for the January 6 Witch Hunt Commission.”

“He doesn’t have good notes,” she added.

In fact, Mr. Davis has been endorsed by 31 of the district’s 35 Republican county presidents, two of the three Republican members of the state’s congressional delegation and the state’s Farm Bureau, all nods that would be seen in most races. as critical. But Ms. Miller probably alluded to one endorsement in particular: Mr. Trump’s.

“I’ve seen Congressman Miller in action a lot during this campaign at various events,” said Tim Butler, a state senator who supports Mr. Davis. “All she’s talking about is Trump. That’s all she talks about. And that’s great. President Trump continues to enjoy great popularity in Republican circles. But if that’s all you’ve got – I think that’s an indication of how shallow the campaign is.”

Still, it may be enough for many Republican primary voters, especially in the newly drawn, very conservative district. Several attendees at Saturday night’s meeting said they planned to vote for Ms. Miller but didn’t know enough about her to give an interview about why they supported her.

“She’s been Trump approved — that’s good enough for me,” said a man who declined to give his name, wearing a shirt decorated with a photo of Mr. Trump’s face and the caption, “Do you miss me yet ?”

Davis supporters who were on their way to knock on his door received a very different story Saturday at his Springfield campaign office, just hours before Ms. Miller’s meeting with the former president.

“I think we have an excellent track record of standing up for life, standing up for the Second Amendment — the core values ​​and principles that make us Republicans,” Mr. Davis told a group of volunteers in sneakers. “But like Tim said, we really need to get things done. There is a big difference between my opponent and me. And when you show up today, don’t be afraid to remind them of those big differences, because I think they want us to work too.”

Stacked on tables in the office were brochures that the volunteers would hand out to voters during the recruiting process, listing Mr. Davis’s accomplishments in the office.

At the top of the pamphlet was a large image of Mr. Davis standing next to Mr. Trump at the 2018 rally, captioned, “Rodney Davis was proud to work with President Trump.”

Reid J. Epstein contributed reporting from Lincoln, Illinois.

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