Kyle McCarter is pretty certain he can win the U.S. House seat in the state's politically conservative 15th Congressional District.
In about two months we'll know for sure. Voters will go to the polls March 15 to nominate their political party candidates to go on to the November general election.
McCarter, a Republican state senator from Lebanon, is challenging one of the most formidable members of the Illinois GOP delegation - John Shimkus of Collinsville, first elected to Congress in 1996.
"I'm just as confident now as when I started this," McCarter said.
His confidence got a boost Wednesday when he was endorsed by the well-funded and influential Club for Growth PAC, which said that McCarter has a "proven track record as a principled fiscal conservative."
Club for Growth supports candidates for limited government and lower taxes. It typically gets involved in open seat races, but also will take sides in primary battles; most famously it endorsed Tea Party candidate David Brat who defeated House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in Virginia in 2014.
The upset spawned "#Cantored," a social media term describing the zeal that conservative Republicans have for defeating moderate Republicans.
"We exert maximum pressure on lawmakers to vote like free-market, limited government conservatives," Club for Growth says about itself. "And if they don’t, we hold them accountable by publicizing their voting record."
McCarter said that he is one of two GOP challenger candidates nationwide to get backing from the Club for Growth PAC, something he said will include financial support.
He also said that Club for Growth scrutinized his 14-year voting record; eight in the state senate and six as a St. Clair County Board member.
"They looked at every vote," he said. "If it stood out, I explained it."
The endorsement followed because "I really just line up with free market principles," he said.
"A lot of people say they are conservative and hope that it probably checks out," he said. "They checked on my record and my opponent's and there is a distinct contrast."
One of the recent votes Club for Growth criticized Shimkus for was his support of the omnibus spending bill last month, which it described as a "budget-busting spending deal negotiated by Obama and Paul Ryan."
“While Kyle McCarter would bring a fresh breath of fiscal conservatism to Washington, his opponent, John Shimkus, is the epitome of what’s wrong with Congress," said Club for Growth President David McIntosh.
The group further slammed Shimkus for breaking a 1996 pledge to limit the number of terms he would serve to six, or 12 years total.
"Shimkus was first elected nearly 20 years ago; that’s eight years longer than the term limits pledge he made in 1996," the group's press release states.
Shimkus has stated that it was a mistake for him to have made that pledge in 1996.
"It was a mistake at the time, and it is a mistake today," he told a Decatur newspaper in 2005. "Unless everyone plays by the same rules, it doesn't make sense."
While McCarter says internal polling conducted four weeks ago shows him in a "very favorable" position over Shimkus, the incumbent nonetheless benefits from widespread support across the 33-county district, from mayors to local GOP officials, which can be critical in influencing base voters.
In 2014, Shimkus defeated Democrat Eric Thorsland by a margin of 74.9 percent to 25.1 percent.
Shimkus also is likely to get endorsements from other conservative groups.
Last month, the Illinois Federation For Right to Life PAC threw its support his way. Shimkus says he has had a 100 percent voting record with the National Right to Life Committee for more than a decade.
Money is another factor that right now favors Shimkus.
Financial statements for the fourth quarter of 2015 have not yet been filed by Shimkus or McCarter with the Federal Elections Commission. They are due Jan. 15.
But at the end of the third quarter, Shimkus had $1.2 million on hand; McCarter had not yet filed any financial reporting records with the FEC.
In the meantime, McCarter said he will be meeting voters in all 33 counties of the district over the next 30 days. The largest concentration of votes are in Vermillion and Madison counties - where close to 20 percent of the district's total come from.
McCarter said that people "have had enough" of 20 years of Shimkus service.
"The last thing people want is a career politician," he said.
He said that if elected, he would sponsor a term limit bill, and even without a bill would self term-limit himself to eight to 10 years.
"It's not supposed to be forever," he said.
The Founding Fathers intended that citizens set aside a period of time for public service, but not to make Congress a career, McCarter said.