SPRINGFIELD — U.S. House Republican Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana, who was seriously wounded when a gunman opened fire on Republican congressmen at a baseball practice two years ago, told an Illinois GOP rally at the State Fair about how prayer helped him though the ordeal, and also about how GOP ideals can help the party overcome Democratic dominance in the state.

“As you’re fighting in Illinois to take your state back and fight the machine, you’re fighting for freedom,” Scalise said at the Director’s Lawn where he keynoted the Republican Day rally.

He spoke in front of a “Fight the Machine” banner, emblazoned with pictures of U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, who headlined a Democratic breakfast a day earlier, as well as Gov. JB Pritzker and Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan, D-Chicago. Among signs on stage and in the crowd were ones stating “Fight Socialism,” featuring a red hammer and sickle, a communist symbol.

While many speakers talked of taxes and corruption brought on by Democrats, the personal was added to the political as Scalise was introduced by U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, a good friend of Scalise who was at bat in Alexandria, Virginia, when a gunman from Belleville, who backed U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders for president, started shooting.

“It’s a miracle that Steve Scalise is here today and I believe it’s through God’s providence,” Davis said. “He’s our story of recovery. And he’s the story of what Illinois Republicans are going to be after the next election.”

Scalise said praying after he was shot gave him “an immediate sense of calm.” He said one thing he prayed for was that his daughter — now 12 — would not have to “walk down the aisle alone.”

“God delivered,” he said.

Also at the event was one of two Capitol Police officers who were at the baseball field and, though injured themselves, returned fire and killed the gunman. Davis introduced Special Agent David Bailey, who got a long standing ovation from the crowd, and also got a personal thank-you from Davis’ father, Marty.

“I had never been able to thank him personally for saving my son’s life,” the elder Davis said.

During his speech, Scalise derided some of the “crazy socialist ideas” coming from Democrats in Congress. He praised freshmen Republicans there, but said he told them, “None of you are my favorite new member of Congress — AOC is ... because she shows the contrast so well.”

He was referring to U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York, saying she’s for bad policy like a minimum wage so high it ends up “crushing the jobs for entry-level workers.”

Scalise praised the policies of President Donald Trump, saying he had brought economic prosperity not seen during the eight years of Democratic President Barack Obama.

“Finally, our country stood up and said, ‘We’re not going to have liberal policies of high taxes, heavy government regulation, government control of every aspect of our life,” Scalise said. “We’re going to elect Donald Trump to make America great again, and it’s working.”

Bernard Schoenburg: bernard.schoenburg@sj-r.com, 217-788-1540, @bschoenburg

Doug Finke: doug.finke@sj-r.com, 217-788-1527, @dougfinkesjr