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Within minutes of Phil Hare’s runaway win in a five-way race to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Lane Evans on the Democratic ballot in November, the former congressional aide was calling for a debate with his Republican opponent, Andrea Zinga.

Hare, of Rock Island, an Evans assistant since his first campaign in 1981, won almost 65 percent of the votes cast by elected precinct committeemen in the sprawling 17th Congressional District.

As he entered the Rock Island County Board meeting chambers for the official vote count Tuesday, Hare pointed at a fellow Democrat and loudly asked, “Did you come to watch me lose?”

In truth, though, his confidence was solid.

“I talked to 350 of the 400-and-some committeemen — some of them four or five times,” Hare said. “You always hope people didn’t make promises they can’t keep.

“The truth is, I’ve had a great time talking to people, no matter what happens,” he said. “That’s the cool part.”

Several dozen Democrats were present for Hare’s first walk to the podium as the party’s official candidate.

“I’m very humbled and honored,” he began. “If I’m half as good as Lane Evans, I’ll be one heck of a great congressman.”

He also credited Evans’ endorsement of his candidacy.

“It was huge,” he said. “Lane’s the most popular man in politics.

“Again, though, I have to prove myself,” he added. “I ran on issues, and I’m going to continue to do that.”

Hare said he looked forward to a face-to-face debate with Zinga, of Coal Valley, a former television anchorwoman and the GOP’s 17th District nominee. The most important discussion the two can have, he said, would focus on jobs, Social Security, fair trade, prescription drugs and health care.

“I think health care ought to be a right, not a privilege,” Hare said.

Zinga’s campaign manager, Charlie Johnston, said he welcomed an opportunity for the two to debate.

“As soon as he calls me, we’ll get it together,” he said. “If I don’t hear from them in a couple weeks, we’ll contact his camp.

“We’re looking forward to several debates with him,” he added.

As Hare left the podium Tuesday, the Democratic candidate with the second-most votes, Sen. John Sullivan of Rushville, quickly took his hand, offering congratulations and support over the next five months of campaigning.

“I’ve said since Day 1 that I’d support the candidate,” Sullivan said. “I’ll do whatever I can.

“It’s important to me that we, as Democrats, hold onto this seat in November,” he said. “I’m disappointed in the outcome, sure, but Phil had tremendous support.”

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Among the Hare supporters who watched the vote count Tuesday were his wife, Becky, and son, Lou. At 26, Lou Hare has been surrounded by politics for most of his life, beginning with his father’s work on Evans’ campaign when he was just a baby.

“I’d have yard sales for Lane, and Lou would be in his playpen in the yard,” Becky Hare recalled. “We’d put a price tag on his head as a joke.”

Lou Hare said he didn’t mind. In fact, he plans to help his father campaign as much as he can and said he has “some interest” in politics.

“I think it’s exciting,” he said of his Dad’s victory. “I think it’s gonna be great.”

The process of choosing a Democratic candidate to replace Evans has been criticized for its failure to include the public in a vote. The process is dictated by law, however, and several attending Tuesday’s vote count said it went as well as it could have, given the short notice, and the fact the process has not been tried in recent decades.

“(State Central Committeeman) Don Johnston did a great job of cobbling together a complicated, last-minute process,” candidate and Rock Island Mayor Mark Schwiebert said at the outset of the counting. “We, as candidates, had to spend our time with the precinct committeemen — the people who vote — and no one wanted to shut people out.

“We know it was frustrating at times,” he said. “Don tried to make it as fair and legal as possible.”

“It’s time we get behind a candidate now,” he added. “We’re already a couple months behind.”

Evans announced in late March, shortly after winning an uncontested primary election, that he was stepping down at the end of his present term because of his Parkinson’s disease.

Of the 423 ballots that were mailed to precinct committeemen in the 17th District, 376 were returned.

Barb Ickes can be contacted at (563) 383-2316 or bickes@qctimes.com.

results

The results of voting Tuesday to replace U.S. Rep. Lane Evans, D-Ill., as the 17th Congressional District candidate on the Nov. 7 general election ballot:

Phil Hare, longtime Evans aide from Rock Island -17,011

Sen. John Sullivan, Rushville -7,530

Rock Island Mayor Mark Schwiebert -1,370

Rep. Mike Boland, East Moline -612

Quincy educator Rob Mellon- 98

Total votes cast - 26,621

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