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Kinzinger pounds tea party rival

Published: Tuesday, March 18, 2014 9:03 p.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, March 18, 2014 11:23 p.m. CDT

The tea party sends shivers down the spines of some relatively moderate Republicans. Probably not that of Rep. Adam Kinzinger.

On Tuesday, Kinzinger sailed past his tea party opponent, David Hale, in the Republican primary for the 16th Congressional District, which includes Lee County.

Kinzinger said in a telephone interview that people want him to go back to Washington to change things.

"It's very clear that I'm not happy with the direction in Washington, D.C. I have shown I can make the tough votes," Kinzinger said.

Some have suggested that Kinzinger is eyeing higher offices, particularly Republican Mark Kirk's U.S. Senate seat.

Asked about that, Kinzinger would not rule out running for Kirk's seat in 2016, saying he makes a decision on his political career every 2 years.

"I just won this primary election. My focus was on winning this election. We're excited about where we are at," he said.

Hale said he was not surprised with the results.

"My opponent spent a lot of money on this race," Hale said. "It's democracy in action. I'm happy about that. I respect the wishes of the people of the district."

He said he hoped Kinzinger would keep his promises.

In other areas of the country, well-heeled conservative groups have funded challengers to Republican incumbents deemed insufficiently conservative. But that hasn't been the case in the 16th District, where Kinzinger, who has criticized those groups, raised nearly $1 million to Hale's $5,000.

In the 2012 primary, Kinzinger of Channahon, who had represented the 11th District for 2 years, faced Don Manzullo, the 20-year incumbent from the 16th.

The year before, the Democratic-run state Legislature redrew the boundaries of the 16th District to put both men in the 16th District. The redistricting packed as many Republican voters as possible from the region into the 16th District so that other districts could go Democratic.

In the primary campaign, Kinzinger, who beat Manzullo with 53 percent of the vote, made the case that he was the more conservative candidate, ready to cut back government and taxes, a message that worked well with the tea party.

But Hale, the Rockford Tea Party's founder, said Kinzinger and other Republicans are moving away from conservatism, taking the congressman to task for backing spending agreements with President Barack Obama.

Kinzinger, Hale said, is part of the "Republican surrender caucus."

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