EAST ST. LOUIS -- It's been a week of A-list politicians visiting southern Illinois to rally for local candidates, and Wednesday was no exception.
Just days after President Donald Trump flew to Murphysboro to boost the campaign of Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Bost for the 12th congressional district, former Vice President Joe Biden headlined a rally on Wednesday for Bost's Democratic challenger, St. Clair State's Attorney Brendan Kelly, that also featured U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin and gubernatorial candidate J.B. Pritzker.
Inside the Iron Workers Local 392 Hall in East St. Louis, Biden told the crowd of more than 800 that this election is "bigger than ordinary politics."
"People are looking for men and women who have character," Biden said, "people who do something strange these days, tell the truth."
Biden reflected on the mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue, pipe bombs mailed to some of Trump's Democratic critics, and the killing of two black people allegedly carried out by a white supremacist in Louisville, saying words matter.
"Our political opponents are not our enemies, they're our opponents," Biden said. "The press is not our enemy. Before we're Democrats and Republicans, we're Americans. We as a nation are so much better than this."
"Lately it seems as if many of our Republican colleagues are spending more time protecting the President than they are protecting the Constitution," he added. "They're choosing party over country."
Murphysboro residents Steve and Luann Ramsey were at the rally to support Kelly.
"Mike Bost won't even talk to people," said Steve Ramsey, saying Bost won't hold town hall meetings with the public. Ramsey said accessibility to health care for people with pre-existing conditions is also important to him.
"He (Bost) voted against pre-existing conditions," he said. "He voted with Trump. Trump's a proven liar. My parents didn't raise me to lie. I can't support anybody that does."
The crowd heard from J.B. Pritzker, who offered a pro-union message, and Durbin, a native of East St. Louis, who said his entire family held union membership.
Williamson County Democratic Chairman Cody Moake made the trek to East St. Louis.
"It's worth it to bring back the message to our local candidates," he said, "to inspire them to finish strong.
"We need to bring dignity back to the elected office on both sides," he said. "Our opponents are not the enemy. Everything seems so hostile and that's not how it should be. We should be doing what's best for the people we represent."
Sesser Mayor Jason Ashmore, who also attended, said he enjoyed hearing the Democrats' vision for the future. Still, he said, there is still not enough being done on the state and federal levels to help southern Illinois. "We're looking for a different approach." Kelly, meanwhile, said this election is nothing less than a fight for democracy.
"The flood of money that has come into our political system has corrupted our democracy and it is tearing this country apart," he said.
"We literally have to rebuild Southern Illinois. We also have to rebuild our faith in democracy itself," Kelly said. "That's going to require some courage from all of you. This election will not be about my power. This election is going to be about your power."
Before exiting the podium, Biden had a final message.
"The only thing that unites us is our ideals," he said. "We Democrats, we choose hope over fear. We choose unity over division."