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BELLEVILLE — A man who previously worked on President Donald Trump's campaign is now jumping into the race for the GOP nomination in the Illinois 15th Congressional District.

Kent Gray, 49, of Leland Grove, who worked as an advance man for the Trump administration, announced his candidacy for the seat that U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, is leaving at the end of term.

"President Trump needs reliable supporters in Congress to help him accomplish his agenda," Gray said. "I want the president to know that the 15th District of Illinois embraces his successes with the U.S. economy, honest trade, tax cuts, immigration management, judicial appointments and protecting the Second Amendment. The 15th District is overwhelmingly supportive of Donald Trump. My existing relationships with numerous congressmen, senators and administration officials will allow me to hit the ground running for district residents."

Gray is the sixth Republican to announce a run in the heavily GOP-leaning district. Two Democrats have announced runs.

Gray worked for the Trump campaign but left shortly before the 2016 Illinois primary because of a disagreement with a superior, he said. However, he said eventually all was forgiven and he then did advance work for the administration and went on to work at the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

He has other previous political experience.

Gray ran for state representative in 2016, but lost in the GOP primary.

He was a trustee for the Lincoln Land Community College, worked in previous presidential campaigns, including George W. Bush's campaign, and was a staff member for the Illinois Senate Republicans.

Gray had his law license suspended for a year after a judge ruled he did not follow through with providing tax returns during the discovery portion of his divorce. He contends he did try to provide the tax returns, but the records did not show up until after the divorce proceedings.

The suspension is scheduled to end on Dec. 6, according to the state's Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission.

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Even though Gray doesn't live in the 15th District, he said he has family connections to southern and southeastern Illinois.

"The Gray family moved to Southern Illinois in the 1800's to mine coal," Gray said. "It is humbling to consider that following a few generations of miners, farmers, inn keepers, carpenters and school teachers I've been blessed to work for two presidents, and now run for Congress.

Gray is one of several candidates to jump into the race to replace Shimkus, who this week reaffirmed his decision to retire.

Other Republican candidates announcing their campaigns to replace Shimkus in the 15th Congressional District include Alex Walker, from Mattoon; Lori L. Fuller, from Highland; John Bambenek, from Champaign; Mary Miller, from Oakland; and Kerry Wolff, from Altamont.

State Sen. Jason Plummer, R-Edwardsville, confirmed he was considering a run for the seat, but has yet to announce a decision.

John W. Hursey Jr., from Collinsville, and Kevin Gaither, from Charleston, have announced campaigns on the Democratic side.

Signatures to get on the ballot can be filed with the state Board of Elections starting on Nov. 25. The last day to file is Dec. 2.

In the 15th Congressional District, a Republican candidate needs to gather at least 1,373 valid voter signatures to make the March 17 primary ballot. The winners of the primaries go on to the November 2020 general election.

The district includes Collinsville but mostly covers southeastern Illinois to the Kentucky and Indiana borders.

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