The Conservative Media Warrior Who May Run for Aaron Schock's Seat
This week began like most of Mike Flynn's recent weeks. The conservative strategist was in a slow, tedious war with Comcast, trying to get NBC affiliates in some key political states to run a two-minute commercial from his Conservative War Chest PAC. The providers had been uninterested in taking money for a video jeremiad against their news divisions, so they'd been resisting. Cleta Mitchell, the ultra-connected conservative attorney and American Conservative Union board member, was making legal arguments. By Friday, if there was no progress, she'd prepare an FCC complaint, and the well-covered crusade against media bias would escalate.
And then Aaron Schock happened. The Illinois congressman's somewhat surprising resignation (he'd been tumbling from scandal to scandal, but had not told leaders that he'd be leaving) opened up a congressional seat in the stretch of rural Illinois where Flynn was raised. In 2010, he'd consulted for Bobby Schilling, a Republican candidate who unseated a Democrat in a district that overlapped with the new 18th. (A Democratic gerrymander, in 2011, merged parts of the districts and helped shore up Schock while taking out Schilling.) Conservatives in the district called Flynn and told him to consider running.
"This is a longstanding conservative district, and I think the people who live there are annoyed by their representation," said Flynn. "It's the same story all over Illinois. I don't know what these elected officials are doing. We have these professional politicians who are totally failing us."
The 18th district has been drawn to elect Republicans, and the party has been moving quickly to shore it up. As soon as Schock announced his resignation, State Senator Darin LaHood announced a candidacy to replace him. The fact that he is the son of Ray LaHood, the district's long-time congressman who retired in 2008 and joined the Obama administration, has only upped the phone calls to Flynn.
"This is not supposed to be a family district, something you pass down like an estate," said Flynn. "LaHood's son is supposedly more conservative, but I don't know what that means compared to his father. I know he lost a state's attorney race and he was basically handed the senate seat. Conservatives can do better than that. This is also somebody who filed for the race before it was even officially called. The district just let go of, supposedly, one of the darlings of the leadership, a rising star. So let's look at what they're going to foist upon voters."
Flynn—who, full disclosure, worked in a non-journalism role at the libertarian Reason foundation when I worked at its magazine, Reason—estimated that he'd need $500,000 to $700,000 to mount his own bid. He'd spent more than 20 years in politics, much of it in Illinois, much of the recent work in the high-dollar world of issue PACs. If he was convinced that the money was there, he imagined an anti-establishment campaign that could capitalize on conservative disappointment with the new Congress. He hadn't lived in the district in 20 years (at 47, he's 14 years older than the disgraced Schock), but he had roots there, and an existing family business. He had a message.
"I can't believe this Republican Congress is funding something that the courts already found to be illegal," he said, referring to President Obama's executive actions on immigration. If he won, and he got a 2017 vote on the speaker of the House, he'd be inclined to back "a conservative" instead of John Boehner.
In the meantime, Flynn needed to figure out the fate of the NBC accountability campaign. Talking about a run for Congress was not a publicity stunt.
"No, people have been calling me," he said. "If I made the run I'd probably have to step away from the NBC campaign."