Last year, candidates Adam Kinzinger and Don Manzullo each tried to claim the mantle of conservatism in the 16th Congressional District, which includes Lee County.
These days, Kinzinger appears to be distancing himself from the most conservative elements of his party.
Manzullo, R-Egan, had long represented the GOP-heavy 16th District, while Kinzinger, R-Channahon, was elected to the 11th District in 2010. Redistricting put Kinzinger in the 16th.
Kinzinger beat Manzullo in the March 2012 primary and sailed to victory in November.
In an interview with the Los Angeles Times this week, Kinzinger blamed House conservatives for the Republican Party's failure in shutdown negotiations.
"It's been about 30 people that make their money on not hanging with the team. And so it's on them," Kinzinger said in the Times story.
That didn't sit well with David Hale of Rockford, who plans to challenge Kinzinger in next March's GOP primary.
"Adam Kinzinger is blaming what he calls 'conservatives' for the government shutdown," Hale said in a news release this week. "He is now characterizing others as conservatives and not including himself in that class. ... What did Kinzinger do in the previous 12 months since the previous budget crisis to strategically plan in order to avert the crisis we have just gone through?"
Hale's answer: Nothing.
"And now he is throwing his colleagues under the bus for cheap political gain," Hale said.
Kinzinger was among a minority of Republicans voting Wednesday for legislation to end the 2 1/2-week shutdown, allowing the government to borrow money through at least February. It was close to what President Barack Obama wanted in the first place.
The bill passed the House largely on Democratic votes.
In an interview Thursday, Kinzinger said the Times editorialized by saying he was blaming House conservatives. He said nearly all House Republicans are conservatives. Rather, he said he was referring to a small group among members.
Kinzinger's spokesman, Zach Hunter, said his boss is a conservative.
"Congressman Kinzinger believes that effective governance requires a certain amount of compromise," Hunter said. "There's a faction in the House conference that feels differently."
Congress had faced a Thursday deadline to raise the debt ceiling. Otherwise, the Unites States would have defaulted on its debt, officials warned.
In a news release, Kinzinger said House Republicans fought to the brink to protect Americans from Obamacare, the original reason behind Republicans' decision to allow a shutdown.
But Kinzinger defended his vote by saying that "surpassing our debt threshold would be incredibly damaging to our already weak economy ... ."
Hale, the founder of the Rockford Tea Party, said he would have voted against ending the shutdown, unless the legislation took on the debt problem.
"The country is $17 trillion in debt. It's time to say no to this madness and stop the spending," he said in an interview Thursday. "We need to start strategically planning together."
In the 17th Congressional District, which includes Whiteside County, Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-East Moline, voted to end the shutdown, as she had pushed for all along.
While Kinzinger was largely silent through the shutdown, Bustos sent daily news releases calling for its end, often profiling average people affected by it.
"I will continue to work with anyone who shares my commitment to finding long-term solutions to our nation's problems that place the needs of our constituents over politics," Bustos said in a statement.
Bobby Schilling, R-Colona, who represented the 17th District for a term until Bustos beat him, couldn't be reached for comment Thursday.
'That's the dirty secret of what's going on'
U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Channahon, who represents Lee County, rejects the litmus tests of some Washington conservative groups.
In an interview Thursday, Kinzinger said groups such as the Club for Growth and FreedomWorks are raising money by saying some Republican members of Congress "are not pure enough."
"They're raising a ton of money," Kinzinger said in a phone interview. "That's the dirty secret of what's going on."
The Club of Growth and FreedomWorks have funded candidates in GOP primaries whom they consider more conservative than incumbent Republicans. In some cases, the groups have ousted the incumbents, including former Sen. Dick Lugar, R-Ind.
David Hale, the founder of the Rockford Tea Party, plans to run against Kinzinger in the March primary.
Kinzinger said he talked with a group of Republicans during the shutdown about ways to reduce the nation's debt. They brought some Democrats into the discussions, asking them what they would be willing to accept.
He said he didn't "necessarily" agree with the strategy going into the government shutdown, saying the "threat of default was real."
He said Democrats and Republicans must have "grown-up" discussions to figure out what they can agree on.
In dealing with the debt, would Kinzinger support cutting Social Security and Medicare benefits for those with higher incomes? What about ending the $113,700 tax cap for Social Security and Medicare, above which no income is taxed?
That's part of the "menu of options," Kinzinger said, but he declined to say whether he would support such measures. He said that if he stated a position in favor, that could "be used to attack me."
He said that after he spoke about the possibility of raising the retirement age for younger people during his campaign, he had $1 million spent against him, warning that he would take away people's Social Security benefits.
A debt compromise, he said, would require things that both sides don't like.
As for cutting defense spending, Kinzinger, a major in the Air National Guard, said the military has taken a "disproportionate hit" from the budget ax.
"It's been cut to the bone," he said.