PEORIA — Democratic congressional candidate Junius Rodriguez leveled a challenge at incumbent U.S. Rep. Darin LaHood on Tuesday: Commit to debating at least four times before the election.

Rodriguez, a Eureka College history professor, invoked Abraham Lincoln while making the demand of his opponent, a Peoria Republican elected last year in a special election.

When Lincoln served in Congress — as multiple holders of the 18th Congressional District seat have noted with pride — the territory he represented included land that makes up the current district.

""Free and open discussion of ideas has always been one of the hallmarks of our democracy, and the residents of this district deserve nothing less than the opportunity to hear their candidates for U.S. Congress argue and defend their views in a public forum," Rodriguez said in front of the statue of Lincoln at the Peoria County Courthouse.

"Anyone seeking office in Lincoln's old district would be derelict in his duties should he fail to heed this call."

Rodriguez is asking to hold events with LaHood in at least four locations, the largest-population communities throughout the district — Bloomington, Peoria, Springfield and Quincy — in order to both cover the broad district and to ensure candidates were able to speak to parochial issues in each part of the district. He said that he already has been invited to at least three potential joint events in Peoria and one in Springfield, and has agreed to potential dates and times for each.

A spokesman for LaHood, however, contested the implication that the first-term congressman was dodging debates, noting that LaHood appeared alongside primary or general election opponents seven times at forums or debates during his initial 2015 race.

"Neither Mr. Rodriguez nor his campaign have contacted us at all, so this media stunt is the first we're hearing from him,” said campaign spokesman Jim Reis. “We have received invitations from some organizations offering to host a debate and Congressman LaHood is very interested in participating. At this point, it is simply a matter of working out calendar conflicts and finding the right day and format to make a debate happen."

 Chris Kaergard covers politics and government. He can be reached at ckaergard@pjstar.com and 686-3255. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisKaergard.