STERLING – Another congressional candidate on Thursday confirmed that he was asked by U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin to withdraw.
Freeport Mayor George Gaulrapp said the state’s senior senator wanted him to leave the 17th Congressional District race in favor of Cheri Bustos, a former East Moline alderwoman. They are candidates in the Democratic primary in March. The district includes Whiteside County.
Gaulrapp is the second candidate to say that Durbin requested that he step aside for Bustos, who is a friend of the senator’s family.
The other candidate, state Sen. Dave Koehler, D-Peoria, exited the race earlier this month at Durbin’s request, he said. Koehler is seeking another term in the state Senate.
A Durbin spokeswoman said Thursday that the senator’s office wouldn’t comment for this story.
Gaulrapp said Durbin called him Dec. 6 to ask the mayor to leave the race. However, Gaulrapp said he wouldn’t consider such a request unless they had a face-to-face meeting.
On Dec. 10, the two men met for lunch at a Springfield restaurant. Durbin made his case again, Gaulrapp said.
Durbin said he was close to Bustos’ family and that she babysat his children, Gaulrapp said.
Her father, Gene Callahan, was a top aide to former U.S. Sen. Alan Dixon and worked for former U.S. Sen. Paul Simon before he joined the Senate.
Gaulrapp said that in arguing for Bustos, Durbin didn’t mention the most important thing – her qualifications.
“She’s not experienced and doesn’t have the qualifications,” Gaulrapp said. “[Durbin] said they would work with her so that she is a great candidate.”
He said Durbin was cordial and nonthreatening during their lunch conversation. The senator promised that he wouldn’t let the issue affect Freeport’s ability to get federal money, the mayor said.
Gaulrapp said he could appreciate Durbin’s argument – focus on one candidate so Democrats can save their resources for the general election. But he said it’s important the Democrats put forward the best candidate.
“I truly believe I am the best candidate. Otherwise, I wouldn’t run,” he said. “I am disappointed he is supporting her.”
He said he didn’t think Durbin should endorse anyone before the Democratic primary on March 20.
Bustos’ spokesman, Matt Larson, said this week that every candidate would be “smart” to seek Durbin’s endorsement. He said that if his candidate got the backing, “we will want to sing that from rooftops.”
Rock Island attorney Eric Reyes, who had planned on running as a Democrat, is now promising an independent candidacy. He said Bustos is getting support from politicians like Durbin because she comes from a “wealthy, influential family.”
Koehler was the top fundraiser among the candidates, with $187,072 in his coffers.
With him out of the race, Bustos is atop with $164,116. The other candidates, Gaulrapp and Augustana College official Greg Aguilar, have far less, with $9,160 and $10,221 respectively.
They are vying to replace Rep. Bobby Schilling, R-Colona, who is running for a second term.
Because of redistricting, the 17th District is considered more Democratic than it was. The district lost some rural areas in west-central Illinois and picked up areas to the north, including parts of Rockford.