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DUQUOIN, Ill. (AP) — A red-faced Mike Bost showed little restraint when he took to the floor of the Illinois House in 2012 and unleashed a furious rant about the way Democrats run the state, complete with hollering, paper-throwing, fist-waving and an oddly placed reference to Moses.
"I'm sick of it!" the GOP lawmaker yelled as he swung at and missed pages of legislation he'd sent fluttering to the floor. "I feel like somebody trying to be released from Egypt. Let my people go!"
A video of Bost's outburst circulated on the Internet and briefly raised his political profile among frustrated voters. Now the footage has resurfaced as he seeks a congressional seat in southern Illinois that's been in Democratic hands for more than two decades but has grown increasingly conservative.
Bost's challenge to Rep. Bill Enyart is shaping up to be one of the nation's most competitive House races in a year when the party also aims to take control of the governor's mansion and pick up as many as three other congressional seats in President Barack Obama's normally blue home state.
Democrats have trotted out the video, labeling Bost "Meltdown Mike." An ad released by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee shows the outburst, with a tagline that acknowledges voters' already low opinion of Congress: "Mike Bost would make Washington worse."
But Bost and some supporters say the renewed attention could help him, particularly in an area where voters have felt overlooked by leaders in Washington and the Illinois capital, Springfield.
The ad is part of $3 million in TV air time the Democratic committee has reserved as it tries to hold on to Enyart's district, which stretches from the eastern suburbs of St. Louis down to where the Mississippi and Ohio rivers meet near the Kentucky and Missouri borders.
"Believe it or not, that helps Mike Bost in southern Illinois," said Richard Stubblefield, a retired teacher and chairman of the Jefferson County GOP. "He's going to stand up and tell it like it is."
The former Marine and union firefighter, who owns a small business, doesn't shy away from talking about what he calls "the rant." On Tuesday, he released his own ad that refers to a brief clip of the tirade, telling viewers that Democrats "really made me mad" and that voters should be angry too about what's happening in Washington.
But Bost insists the behavior isn't typical for his nearly 20 years in office — nor would it be if he's elected to the U.S. House.
The display came in the final days of the spring session. After negotiating for months in search of a solution to Illinois' massively underfunded pension systems, Bost says, the longtime speaker of the House dropped a roughly 200-page bill on lawmakers' desks and wanted a quick vote.
"I turned loose on him," Bost said. "That's not normally the kind of thing I would do."
On the campaign trail, he likens it to the day House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said lawmakers needed to pass the president's health care overhaul so they could find out what's in it. "That's not what our government's supposed to be," Bost said.
Enyart, an Air Force veteran and former adjutant general of the Illinois National Guard, is one of about two dozen House members in the Democratic committee's "Frontline" program, which raises money to protect the most vulnerable incumbents. He had nearly twice as much cash on hand as Bost, according to the most recent campaign-finance reports.
Given the environment in Washington, Enyart says, the last thing Congress needs is more yelling.
"Frankly, I think taking that kind of attitude to Washington, D.C., is taking a can of gasoline to a fire," he said.
He's focusing on Bost's stance against raising the minimum wage and his role, as a longtime state lawmaker, in Illinois' fiscal mess.
Bost says Enyart is out of step with voters, including Democrats in Illinois' 12th congressional district who tend to be more socially conservative than Democrats in other traditionally left-leaning areas. He says Enyart's voting record lines up with Pelosi. Enyart says he's voted against Pelosi and the Obama administration "when they're not correct."
Belva Rowe, who along with her husband is a longtime Republican Party committeeman, supports Bost. But she acknowledged she doesn't quite buy some Republicans' arguments that the focus on his temper could help come Election Day.
"A lot of people say, 'I don't blame him a bit,'" Rowe said. "But then I've heard other things said too."
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