STERLING – At first there were 10, then 20. By 3 p.m., upward of 30 people milled about beneath the gazebo at Grandon Civic Center waiting to hear former Republican Congressman Bobby Schilling make his speech.
After losing the longtime Democratically held 17th District seat to Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-East Moline, in November, Schilling wants a rematch.
In jeans, a white dress shirt and cowboy boots, the Colona Republican stepped up to a small platform. “The middle class is being affected in a very bad way,” he said. “Go to the grocery store. Take a look at the price of bread, milk, cheese ... We're being crushed out by rising prices and stagnant wages.”
Among the crowd was 16-year-old Bryson Reyes.
Reyes, of Sterling, is “really into politics.” And, in fact, it was Schilling who first got him started. “Just following him in the press and the others. I really like his conservative policies.”
With him was his grandfather, Gene Hafner. “I needed a ride,” Reyes explained.
Hafner, 71, also of Sterling, voted for Schilling in the past, but Tuesday was the first time either he or his grandson had seen him speak.
Schilling touched on topics varying from the necessity of controlling inflation to bringing power away from the federal government and back into the hands of the people – especially with regard to education.
“The American education system is going through a disastrous change for the worst,” Schilling said, referencing the Common Core standards, a national initiative to standardize curriculum and expectations within public schools. “I will not be part of a big government takeover."
Reyes sat in impressed silence, his hands resting calmly by his sides, as Schilling's speech rolled into talks of his opponent.
“We need leadership in Washington, not a Nancy Pelosi clone,” Schilling said.
Bustos took the post from Schilling in November, winning 53 percent of the vote in the district, which includes all of Whiteside County.
“I need you all to stand with me. Will you stand with me?” Schilling continued. And they did.
Even Don Blair, a Korean War veteran sitting just to the right of Reyes and his grandfather. Blair, a self-proclaimed Chicago Democrat, came to see Schilling because of his involvement with the VA outpatient clinic in downtown Sterling. “[Former Reps. Lane] Evans and [Phil] Hare started it, but Bobby finished it.”
After his speech, Schilling was sure to shake the hand of everyone in attendance, thanking them for their help in what he called his “solution-based campaign.”
“I think we've got really good chances; we're just going to have to work really hard,” he said. “It'll be tough, but nobody can outwork me.”