Illinois Public Media News
An increasingly confident Mitt Romney called President Barack Obama an "economic lightweight" Monday as the Republican presidential candidate looked beyond Tuesday's Illinois primary to a general election showdown with the incumbent Democrat.
Romney's chief rival - Rick Santorum - kept the focus on the GOP front-runner, arguing that nominating the former Massachusetts governor would deprive the party of a defining issue to use against Obama in the November election - health care. "Obamacare," Santorum said, was based on "Romneycare," Massachusetts' 2006 health care law.
Courting voters in Obama's home state, Romney acknowledged that the economy was moving in the right direction as hundreds of thousands of jobs have been created, the unemployment rate has dropped and consumer confidence has jumped. Romney suggested it was in spite of the president.
"The economy always comes back after a recession of course," said Romney, previewing what could be a general election argument. "There's never been one that we didn't recover from. The problem is this one has been deeper than it needed to be and a slower recovery than it should have been."
The former venture capitalist said he's better equipped to steer the economy.
"There are dramatic differences between me and President Obama," Romney said during a morning campaign stop at Charlie Parker's diner in Springfield. "I'm not an economic lightweight. President Obama is."
Romney extended his delegate lead Sunday in Puerto Rico, where he trounced rival Rick Santorum and scored all 20 of the Caribbean island's delegates. Romney has collected more delegates than his opponents combined and is poised to win the delegate battle in Illinois, even if he loses the popular vote, thanks to missteps by Santorum's shoestring operation.
Brushing aside skepticism from the party's right flank, Romney aides have been emphasizing their overwhelming mathematical advantage in the race to 1,144 delegates - the number needed to clinch the GOP presidential nomination and face President Barack Obama in the fall.
Santorum has all but conceded he cannot earn enough delegates to win, but claimed he was in contest for the long haul because Romney is a weak front-runner.
"I looked at the leading candidate for president on the Republican side and I said 'He can't be the nominee,'" Santorum told several hundred people at the Venetian Club in Rockford. "He can't be the nominee because he would take away from the Republican Party in this crucial election, the most important in your lifetime, he would take away the central issue in this campaign. He is uniquely disqualified to go and make the case against Obamacare because he developed the blueprint for Obamacare."
In 2006, then-Massachusetts Gov. Romney instituted a sweeping health care system in the state that required everyone to have insurance. It was the model for Obama's divisive health care overhaul that he signed into law two years ago this Friday.
"Why Illinois would you consider voting for someone for president on the Republican side who is for Romneycare, the blueprint for Obamacare, and for government mandates?" Santorum asked. ".... . He will give every single important issue on this subject matter away. There is no difference between the two."
He also accused Romney of forcing Catholic hospitals to provide the morning-after pill when he was governor. Santorum argued that the pill "caused abortion."
As a gubernatorial candidate in 2002, Romney signed a Planned Parenthood questionnaire that he supported using state tax dollars to fund abortion services through Medicaid for low-income women, according to a copy of the questionnaire. He also pledged support for increased access to emergency contraception such as the "morning-after pill," which he now condemns as an "abortive pill."
Santorum said that he'll "go out and compete in every state," calling Illinois a "two-person race."
"What I've said is, I think it's going to be very difficult as this goes on for anybody to get that magic number" to clinch the nomination, Santorum said in an interview on CBS's "This Morning."
Santorum called Romney a "big-government heavyweight," responding on MSNBC Monday to the former Massachusetts governor's recent assertion that he couldn't match up on economic expertise. Santorum told CBS he thinks the chances of a brokered GOP convention in August "are increasing."
In nationally broadcast remarks Sunday, Santorum sidestepped when asked if he would fight Romney on the convention floor if he failed before August to stop the former Massachusetts governor from getting the required number of delegates.
Romney aides privately likened the situation to the Black Knight in "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" who loses his arms and legs in battle with King Arthur but insists he has only a flesh wound. The Romney camp suggested that Tuesday's performance would extend Romney's delegate advantage, even if he loses the popular vote.
Santorum cannot win at least 10 of the state's 54 delegates because his campaign failed to file the paperwork.
Polls suggest a Romney edge in Illinois. At a Romney campaign stop Sunday, voters were divided.
"I'm leaning toward Santorum, but I wanted to hear him in person," said Nichole Warren, a 32-year-old stay-at-home mom from nearby South Beloit. "I hear (Romney) talk and I hear a lot of Obama in him, and that scares me."
But Sid Haffenden, a 61-year-old retired toll-way worker, said, "Santorum has too much baggage." He added, "I want a businessman."
At this rate, Romney is on pace to capture the nomination in June unless Santorum or former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is able to win decisively in the coming contests.
Both have said they would stay in the race and perhaps force the nomination to a fight at the GOP's convention in Tampa if Romney doesn't amass enough delegates to arrive with a mandate. That would turn the convention into an intra-party brawl for the first time since 1976.
Including Puerto Rico's results, Romney has now collected 521 delegates, compared to Santorum's 253, Gingrich's 136 and Paul's 50, according to The Associated Press count.
(Photo by Brian Mackey/IPR)
Republican presidential hopefuls Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum are campaigning in next-up primary states of Illinois and Louisiana, while Puerto Ricans get their say in picking the GOP's presidential nominee.
Puerto Rico's residents cannot vote in general elections, but are set to award 20 delegates in their Sunday Republican primary.
Meanwhile, Romney was hoping to cement his lead in Illinois ahead of Tuesday's primary, with chief rival Santorum in Louisiana ahead of that state's vote on March 24.
Both Santorum and Romney weighed in on Afghanistan as the campaign briefly moved to the Sunday morning talk shows.
Romney said that President Barack Obama has failed in Afghanistan, and he blamed the president for the chaos there. Romney told "Fox News Sunday" that the president should have been "more engaged" with military commanders and Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
The former Massachusetts governor has emerged as the only Republican candidate not to question the U.S. commitment in Afghanistan, even as polls show that most Americans want to end it.
On ABC's "This Week" that Santorum said the U.S. should commit to "winning" in the region or get out, echoing comments rival Newt Gingrich made last week.
The former Massachusetts governor and former Pennsylvania senator both campaigned in Puerto Rico ahead of the voting.
But Romney dramatically curtailed his trip to the U.S. territory Saturday in favor of spending more time in Illinois, where polls have shown him slightly ahead of Santorum.
At issue in Puerto Rico's primary is the island's political status - statehood, independence or no change. Puerto Ricans will vote on that in November.
Romney has support from much of the establishment here, including Puerto Rican Gov. Luis Fortuno, who supports making the island the 51st state. Romney is confident about his prospects for winning many of the island's delegates.
Santorum has said he would support statehood if the November vote were decisive. He also has spent days explaining his comment that English would have to become the island's main language for Puerto Rico to realize statehood. Only a fraction of Puerto Rico's residents speak English fluently.
Puerto Rico's delegates will be split proportionally among the candidates, though if someone wins more than 50 percent of the vote they'll sweep them all.
(Photos courtesy of The Associated Press)
(With additional reporting from Indiana Public Broadcasting)
Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels has appointed state Senator Connie Lawson to replace ousted Secretary of State Charlie White.
Prior to the announcement, Lawson served as a state senator since 1996. Before that, she served as court clerk in Hendricks County. According to Gov. Daniels, it's those experiences that make her a good fit for the position.
"She's also been a real ally in the quest for local government reform, which takes a certain amount of courage and reformist zeal," Daniels said.
Lawson, who is the second woman to hold the office, will serve the remainder of White's term, which runs until 2015. She said she is ready to get to work.
"I look forward to getting started, meeting the dedicated men and women in the various divisions of the office, and working with them to ensure that the Secretary of State's office is as efficient and effective as it can be," Lawson said.
Lawson's appointment comes a day after the Indiana Supreme Court ruled that White's 2010 candidacy was valid despite his conviction on voter fraud and other felony charges.
Gov. Daniels said even though the Secretary of State's office has seen 'less than ideal' circumstances following White's removal, the staff will make a smooth transition to Lawson's leadership.
"I don't have the impression that there'll be a big cleanup effort necessary, but Connie will put her own stamp on the place and I'm sure pretty quickly," he added.
Interim Secretary of State Jerry Bonnet is returning to his role as Deputy Secretary of State.
Democrats hoped Vop Osili would have gotten the job, but the Indiana Supreme Court ruled earlier this week that Charlie White was eligible to run in 2010. This gave Daniels the ability to appoint a replacement, rather than putting runner-up Osili in office.
U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk got a phone call from the Senate's top Republican wishing him well in his recovery from a January stroke.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky called Kirk on Wednesday at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, where Kirk is recovering.
McConnell says he assured his colleague their staffs were working together to represent the interests of Illinois in the Senate.
He says Kirk was eager to discuss policy during the call, especially his push to tighten sanctions on Iran in response to its nuclear work.
McConnell says the Senate is looking forward to having him back.
Doctors have said the 52-year-old Kirk should make a full mental recovery, although they expect the stroke will limit movement on his left side.
An attorney, a teacher, an insurance office manager, a nurse, and a former mayor are running in Illinois' 106th House District race. They are all newcomers to state office, running in a legislative district that are making a bid for the Illinois House in a long stretch of Central Illinois that's seen its political landscape altered through redistricting.
The five candidates have held more than 15 debates and forums, but it was simple "meet and greet" time for the candidates at a recent Republican dinner in Pontiac.
The race for the 106th includes largely rural cities like Watseka, Dwight, and Gibson City; the campaign trail stretches from the Indiana border just east of the Illinois River. It is a politically conservative area, so much so that no Democrats are running for the seat.
Former Pontiac Mayor Scott McCoy said he has more going for him than simply name recognition. He touts his experience helping his city cope with a 2007 flood, and fighting efforts to close the Pontiac Correctional Center.
Now a full-time software designer, McCoy said he also has the necessary budgetary experience to view cuts strategically. He wants to see more of what he calls "true conservatives" elected to office to make those difficult choices, and to ensure government is limited in other ways.
"I'm the candidate who wants to go to Springfield to remove government from your life, and we see that every day," McCoy said. "They're talking about banning cell phones from a moving vehicle altogether. We need less government period, and that's a great place to start to solving our issues in the state."
The five candidates are in agreement in many areas. Each supports a concealed carry measure, keeping the Dwight prison open, and term limits for legislators, but the dominant issue for all appears to be the economy. Attorney Brian Gabor said he holds an edge in the 106th district since he's been an alderman on the Pontiac City Council for nine years and a small business owner.
"I know what my clients complaint about, and that's the overburdensome that the state puts on us," Gabor said. "That's the higher taxes. The tax increases that Governor Quinn put on us. Unless and until we reverse that trend in Springfield, that trend of being anti-business, things are not going to turn around - and that's what we need to do."
Gabor said he also has a better understanding of the plights of communities, since his law firm represents small towns, dealing often with state regulations and unfunded mandates.
Josh Harms doesn't have government experience, but he is a member of one of the groups most impacted by Illinois' financial problems.
"I think it helps me immensely being a teacher, going in and saying the pension has to change because I'm in the pension," Harms said. "My wife is in the pension, my brother is in the pension, my sister-in-law is in the pension. I realize that it's got to give."
A special education teacher at Watseka High School, Harms wants local school boards and parents to have the most input on school policies, particularly in districts like his where 80-percent of students do not attend college, but still have to take additional science and English courses.
"It's so counterintuitive to me that you would take those kids who aren't college bound and force them into a college curriculum," Harms said.
Harms said the amount Illinois gives to state colleges and universities should be given to the students themselves, and those who don't finish school would repay the state in the form of a loan.
Tom Bennett is a former teacher, and a Parkland College Trustee. He said his experience sets him apart, as does his experience running a family farm and managing IT at an insurance office. The Gibson City resident said he will make connections across the political aisle in Springfield, and build a better business environment.
"I don't do much for the knee-jerk reactions," Bennett said. "I do my homework. I study the issues. I ask questions. And I don't go off in a corner, and flip a coin, or make a decision in a back room. I pull people in, I call people, and I expect folks to call me, too. That's the way I work."
Meanwhile, one candidate did not make the Livingston County dinner. Richard Thomas said he is temporarily given up his job as a nurse to campaign, and serve a single term in Springfield.
"I may have the smallest wallet, but I definitely have the largest ideas, and I think that's what democracy should be about," Thomas said.
The Dwight resident said his military background and experience forming coalitions in Springfield are at the root of his campaign for the 106th House seat. Thomas said his decision to run was born out of frustration with the way government currently operates, taking a cue from the Occupy Wall Street movement and Tea Party.
Thomas backs a welfare to work program that would let recipients do park and highway maintenance, as well as a plan to recall any elected official as soon as their first day in office
"We need a democracy in the 21st century that is more immediately responsive to we the people," Thomas said. "Imagine being locked in a bad state senator for 4 years or a bad state representative for 2 years in the 21st century."
When a winner emerges Tuesday night, he will have to wait to learn who he will face in November.
A spokesman for the state board of elections said after the primary, Democratic Party chairmen across the 106th district will meet and conduct a weighted vote to appoint a nominee. That person faces a June 4 deadline to submit nominating petitions in order to qualify for the November ballot.
(A map of the re-drawn 106th House District)
13th Congressional Debate from Illinois Public Media on Vimeo.
The Democratic candidates running in Illinois' re-drawn 13th Congressional district took part in a debate Wednesday night on WILL-TV.
Bloomington doctor David Gill and Greene County State's Attorney Matt Goetten are competing in Tuesday's Democratic primary.
The candidates have different opinions about term limits. Gill, who is running for the U.S. House of Representatives for the fourth time, said he support term limits for members of Congress.
"Just as we passed an amendment in 1951 to term limit presidents, we should do the same," Gill said. "A lot of my friends tell me the downsides to it. I think the upside outweighs the downside."
Meanwhile, Matt Goetten said he would oppose a constitutional amendment for term limits. He said there is a lot of institutional knowledge that could be gained by serving in office over a long period of time.
"I just don't see us getting to the threshold that we need to get to to even have that be an issue," Goetten said.
During the debate, the candidates also weighed in on gay marriage and contraception issues.
The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) defines marriage as only between a man and a woman. Gill said DOMA should be repealed.
"I think our LGBT friends should be stood up for by true Democrats, and I think proudly stand up for them," Gill said. "They should have the freedom to marry is all 50 states of the union."
Goetten said he doesn't believe the law would survive a court challenge.
"DOMA is unconstitutional," Goetten said. "I believe it will be found such later this year. I, like Dave, am for equality."
The two Democrats were also asked about President Obama's decision to require contraception coverage for employees of Catholic institutions.
Goetten has described himself as a pro-choice Catholic who has always chosen life. Gill said he is the only 100 percent pro-choice candidate in this race, and he accused Goetten of ducking the issue. Goetten said he agrees with Gill that women should have access to contraception.
Gill and Goetten are competing to run against Congressman Tim Johnson of Urbana, who faces challenges from Metro East residents Michael Firsching and Frank Metzger in the GOP primary.
The re-drawn 13th Congressional District stretches from Champaign-Urbana west to the Mississippi River and to the Illinois suburbs of St. Louis.
View the online chat room that was live during the broadcast
(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)
On his last full day of freedom, Rod Blagojevich gave a statement to reporters in front of his home on Chicago's North side.
Blagojevich first thanked people for their support over the last three years. He said the citizens of Illinois elected him twice to be governor of the state. He called that a privilege and an honor.
Blagojevich said he fought hard for the people during his time as governor and listed some key legislation that passed during his term. He faulted himself for possibly fighting too hard and not "having more humility."
The ex-governor paused as supporters chanted, "Free our governor," before turning his statement to address his wife Patti and his two daughters. He called going to prison the hardest thing he'd ever have to do.
"How do you make sense of all of this? What do you tell your children?" he asked.
Blagojevich regretted that he would be away from his daughters for more than a decade.
"It's hard for me to say that I have to go to prison. That's a hard word for me to say," he said.
His wife Patti stood by his side during the entire statement, trying to hold back tears. The ex-governor praised her for standing by his side and being a "great mom."
After his statement, Blagojevich didn't take any questions and the family returned to their home.
The 55-year-old Democrat is due to report to a prison in Colorado on Thursday to begin serving a 14-year sentence. He was convicted of 18 criminal counts during two trials, including charges that he tried to sell or trade an appointment to President Barack Obama's vacated U.S. Senate seat.
More than 50 reporters crowded onto the street near the former Illinois governor's home as television helicopters hovered overhead.
Neighbors and supporters hung a banner over the railing of Blagojevich's home that read, "Thanks Mr. Governor. We will pray."
Current Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn told reporters Wednesday the state is a much better place than it was on January 29th, 2009, the day Blagojevich was impeached and removed from office.
"We're going to have two governors, two former governors, in jail at the same time. That's something that we never, ever want to have happen," Quinn said. "And I think that it's important that the people of Illinois, who are good and true, always come out first."
Quinn said he wishes Blagojevich's family well.
Blagojevich had announced he'd make the statement starting precisely at 5:02 p.m., which enabled prime time news to lead with his remarks. Attorneys for the ousted Illinois governor say he wants to depart in a dignified way, without a media frenzy. That fueled speculation he'd try to slip out of Chicago undetected, but his spokesman says Blagojevich never entertained that idea.
(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)
Illinois U.S. Senator Dick Durbin met Wednesday with the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency to talk about assisting the southern part of the state damaged by deadly storms.
A tornado tore through the Harrisburg area last month, killing seven people.
Assistance from FEMA would help with repairs and rebuilding, but the agency denied the state's request for federal help. FEMA had ruled that insurance, charities and state money could cover costs linked to the storm that tore through five southern Illinois counties.
Speaking after the meeting with FEMA, Durbin said Illinois is getting another chance.
"I still feel confident, having seen this damage and compared it to a lot of other disasters, that we have a good fighting chance for this federal declaration," Durbin said. "I want it to happen, the people down there have suffered enough. Seven people lost their lives, a lot of folks are out of their homes, the community has just pitched in in every way possible to help out. This federal declaration will help a lot of people get back on their feet."
Speculating about why Illinois didn't receive assistance from FEMA the first time, Durbin said application materials gathered were lacking information. He said he expects FEMA to get a revised application in less than a week, and then make a decision within a few days.
For the first time in twenty years, the Illinois G-O-P presidential primary will really matter. That is according to Dennis Hastert, former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Hastert stopped in the Quad Cities on Wednesday as part of a state-wide tour to garner support for Republican Presidential candidate, Mitt Romney. Hastert said after working with all of the Republican contenders over the years, he decided to support Romney.
"I have a lot of respect for Newt Gingrich. He's a smart guy and he's very articulate," Hastert said. "As you'll find with most of the people who worked with Newt aren't supporting Newt because he's sometimes very eccentric. You never know which direction at kind of a snap of a finger he'll decide to go."
Illinois voters will decide in next Tuesday's primary, how the state's 69 delegates will be divided.
So far in the campaign Romney is in the lead with 495 delegates with Rick Santorum in second at 252.
The two candidates vying for the Republican nomination in Illinois' 51st State Senate district faced each other Tuesday in their only debate.
State Rep. Chapin Rose of Mahomet and Tom Pliura of Le Roy debated each other in Bloomington. Rose said his priority is getting Illinois' budget under control. He said his experience as a fifth-term State Representative will help him cut state spending.
"This year and this current budget we actually cut $2.8 billion out of the current budget. Now, the reality is we need to go beyond that," Rose said. "We need to cut more."
Pliura has never run for public office, but if elected, he has said he will serve no more than two terms. He said his own lack of political experience will shake things up in Springfield, unlike his opponent whom he referred to as "another career politician."
"We've got enough politicians down in Springfield," Pliura said. "We need some problem solvers. We can't blame the Democrats when we got to clean up our own house."
Illinois' Republican primary is next Tuesday.
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