The 18th Congressional District of Illinois is not friendly territory for a Democrat. Never has been.
When Junius Rodriguez ran against incumbent U.S. Rep. Darin LaHood in 2016, the Democrat won only 28 percent of the vote. LaHood, the Republican, received more than 250,000 votes, the highest total in at least 24 years for an 18th District candidate.
But Rodriguez won almost 97,000, the third-highest for a Democrat in that same span in the GOP bastion.
"That's nothing to sneeze at, for a campaign that was ill-fated," the 60-year-old Eureka College history professor said.
It's understandable Rodriguez prefers to focus on the vote total, not the percentage. Apparently, he also prefers to focus more on LaHood than on the other two candidates running in the 18th District Democratic primary election this year.
Former Morton High School teacher Brian Deters and Danvers-area farmer Darrel Miller join Rodriguez in pursuit of the Democratic nomination. To some degree, all three are running unusual campaigns.
Deters has spent most of the primary season in Switzerland, where his wife, Joni, works for Caterpillar Inc. He has visited the district to campaign a few times since he declared his candidacy late last year.
The district includes most of Peoria north of War Memorial Drive; most of Peoria, Stark and Tazewell counties; and all of Hancock, McDonough, Mason, Schuyler and Woodford counties.
"Everybody in central Illinois is fully aware of what it can mean to be a Caterpillar family and the commitment that goes with that," Deters said about his wife's job transfer.
In a few weeks, Deters plans to return stateside to stay through the March 20 primary, and for good eventually. In the interim, he has been using social media to disseminate his philosophies, which in part address current American political divisiveness.
A series of Facebook videos outlines a strategy in keeping with Deters' campaign theme, "Time To Heal."
"It's an opportunity to see the impact of social media with regard to campaigning and getting the message out and communicating with people in a pretty intimate way," the 44-year-old former Morton soccer coach said.
"I think what we're seeing here is this is the new age of how grass-roots activism can work."
Miller is used to grass roots in his usual line of work. He also is used to running for Congress.
In 2014, Miller was the losing Democratic candidate against former Rep. Aaron Schock, LaHood's predecessor. Miller received 25 percent of the vote.
"Each of us has very different appeal to different people," Miller, 64, said about his 2018 primary opponents. "I'm the one full-time businessman running on the ballot. The other two are educators. They talk for a living. I don't talk for a living.
"I'm a pretty practical, let's-sit-down-and-get-this-done guy. I'm trying to fix this thing and make it work a little better than it is now."
Miller said he ran into Deters and Rodriguez a few weeks ago at a campaign event in Havana. They all get along fine, according to Miller.
As Rodriguez remembers it, the last time he saw Miller was when they were collecting petition signatures a few months ago. Rodriguez said he wasn't sure how much active campaigning Miller was doing.
Active campaigning for Rodriguez revolves around the three Eureka classes he teaches on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and the morning class he teaches on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
All three candidates appear to have commonality in their critiques of President Donald Trump. Those assessments weren't favorable, although Deters' criticisms focused on national mood.
"I think Democrats everywhere are making quite a statement by all of us citizen candidates lining up to run for office," Miller said about his party's reaction to Trump's presidency.
But Rodriguez's primary focus appears to be on LaHood.
In a recent interview, Rodriguez spent more time criticizing the incumbent, who has supported much of Trump's agenda, than addressing either primary opponent. Over more than one hour, Rodriguez never mentioned Deters by name.
"I think there are a lot of moderate Republicans (in the district) who can't believe what Darin has ended up being," Rodriguez said. "If Darin was a brilliant, rising star in his party, there might be a level of goodwill that can carry him over. But if he continues to be Darin as we know him, I think he's going to find a lot of opposition.
"That's my way of saying I'm going to do better than 28 percent."
Nick Vlahos can be reached at 686-3285 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @VlahosNick.