Schock plans to seek LaHood's congressional seat

Karen McDonald

State Rep. Aaron Schock wants to go national.

Fueled by what he called his passion to "step up to this cause" and the "outpouring of support" expressed to him from constituents and leaders throughout the 18th Congressional District, Schock told the Journal Star on Saturday he plans to run for the 20-county seat. It’s currently held by U.S. Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Peoria, who is retiring in January 2009.

"Serving in Congress will allow me to step up and advocate for people and the causes I believe in at a higher level," said Schock, also a Peoria-based Republican.

"This is a call to duty for me. I am passionate about advocating for causes that affect people’s lives, and I’ve proven that I can get things done even with a Democrat legislative majority."

The decision comes after two weeks of speculation whether the 26-year-old, who became the youngest school board member and president in Peoria School District 150 history and is now the youngest member of the Illinois General Assembly, would make the leap. A formal announcement is expected in coming weeks.

"Obviously, timing is everything in politics," Schock said. "I believe my conservative voting record and the principles I stand for are a good fit to accurately represent the people of the 18th District."

In his bid for the nomination, "I believe my proven legislative and campaign abilities are a powerful combination," he said.

He will join fellow Republican and former Peoria City Councilman John Morris, 39, in his bid for the coveted post. Heartland Partnership President Jim McConoughey, 46, also a Republican, said he’s launching an "exploratory committee" to help him decide.

Other potential local GOP candidates include LaHood’s son, Darin, a Peoria attorney, and state Rep. David Leitch, R-Peoria.

Schock said he’s already sealed endorsements from Republican County chairmen — regardless of who runs in the primary — in 11 out of the 20 counties in the 18th District.

Tazewell County Republican Chairman Demetra DeMonte said she’s personally supporting Schock because he would "rejuvenate" the Republican ticket.

"Tazewell is a conservative county, and Aaron is guided by conservative principles. I believe he’s inspiring in that he brings people to him. He draws people to him," DeMonte said. "Aaron has a proven ability to reach out to independents and Democrats, in addition to Republicans. I believe he will rejuvenate the Republican ticket. It will excite the Republican ticket."

Shock’s early rise to elected government began at age 19, when he defeated an incumbent District 150 board president in an uphill and aggressive 2001 write-in campaign. He was elected vice president of the board in 2003 and president in 2004.

At 22, he challenged incumbent Democrat Ricca Slone in 2004 for her 92nd District legislative seat and won a narrow victory with 235 votes. He resigned from the school board in July 2005, after he completed his term as board president, to focus on his role as a legislator.

He was elected to a second two-year House term in 2006.

"I’ve never had an easy race, and each of the three times I’ve run to serve in public office, I’ve risen to the challenge and overcome the odds. I’m ready to work just as hard in this race," Schock said.

If elected, Schock would not become the youngest person ever elected to Congress. Adam Putnam of Florida was inaugurated in 2001 at 25, the minimum age requirement under the U.S. Constitution.

He could become the youngest serving congressman, however, depending upon the outcomes in the November 2008 elections. Republican Patrick McHenry of North Carolina currently holds that distinction at age 31.

Karen McDonald can be reached at (309) 686-3285 or kmcdonald@pjstar.com.