At State Fair, Illinois Republicans Urge Voters to Make Change

By Amanda Vinicky

Republicans are trying to grab onto voters' discontent, and turn it into an opportunity to make political gains in Illinois. That was the focus of the GOP's rally on Thursday, during Republican Day at the Illinois State Fair.

The event bore a stark contrast to the activities at the fair a day prior, when leading Democrats were heckled and booed by union protestors.  

On Wednesday, crowds booed Gov. Pat Quinn and other top Democrats. Many of the negative chants came from members of AFSCME, the state's largest public employees union. Hundreds of protesting state workers and retirees filled the lawn in front of the stage, their posters often blocking the view of the politicians on the platform. 

The climate on Thursday was much different.

"Welcome, and you know the thing is, I can look to the media here, you're not going to see that here in the Illinois Republican Party today," Republican Party Chair Pat Brady said to kick off the GOP event. "You're going to see a lot of unity.  You’re going to hear from our candidates, you’re going to hear from our current office holders, and they're going to hear about a positive mission ... but in the state of Illinois, which is badly, badly in need of reform."                                                      :                       )

Far fewer people attended than a day before, and most  sat at picnic tables off to the side. The area in front of the stage was practically empty: only a dozen or so party faithful sat in neat rows of chairs on the lawn, leaving a clear view of both the politicians, and a lot of dead grass.

The contrast didn't go unnoticed by Republicans, like 13th District Congressional candidate Rodney Davis of Taylorville.

"One thing I've noticed today, I haven’t heard any speaker drowned out by boo's," Davis said. "But I haven't heard a lot of excitement out there either! Hey, who wants Republican victories in November! Let's keep that up!"

Although they joked about it, Republicans are counting on anger, like that displayed in the union's protest, and hoping independents and those on-the-fence will look to the GOP. Chairman Brady said the protests are representative of a larger anger felt throughout Illinois:

"I think it's just more reflective of how a lot of people in Illinois feel about how the Democrats have basically put us on the path of financial collapse in the last twelve years," Brady said. "So create a lot of opportunity for us because we're going to be the party that's going to reform the state and put it back on its feet."

The GOP has been relegated to perennial minority status in the General Assembly in recent years. A Democrat, Pat Quinn,  maintains control of the governor's office. That's left Illinois Republicans largely powerless.  But the absence of power allows the party to heap blame on the leading Democrats for the state's myriad problems.

State Sen. Bill Brady (R-Bloomington) narrowly lost the governor's race to Quinn a couple years ago. He said it's telling that even unions - traditional allies of Democrats - have turned on that party.

"They don’t trust the Democrats, they don’t trust this administration," Sen. Brady said. "There's no question that those hard core Democrats are going to be suppressed. And I think we’re going to have a good outcome in this selection.  Its’ because of Quinn, because of Madigan, because of Obama. People are tired of failed leadership.”

"Michael Madigan" is a name Republicans repeated over and over in reference to the longtime Democratic Speaker of the Illinois House. Except for a two year break in the '90s, Madigan has been Speaker since 1983. He also chairs the state party, giving him power beyond the House chamber.

Republicans are trying to place the blame on him for leaving Illinois in financial ruin. They are calling him out in stump speeches in campaign brochures and commercials. There was even someone dressed as a leprechaun...a play on Madigan's Southside Chicago Irish roots...running around at the GOP rally, carrying a sign that said "Madigan stole my pot o' gold."

In short, they are trying to make the argument that a vote for a Democrat in the General Assembly is a vote to keep Madigan in power. But Republicans have their work cut out for them. Control of state government allowed Democrats to unilaterally draw a new map of state legislative and  Congressional districts.

Of course, Democrats drew it to their advantage. That is leaving Republican incumbents, like Congressman Randy Hultgren of Winfield, struggling to retain their positions.

"Democrats have done a slap in the face of Illinois voters this year with redistricting, on top of everything else that they've done here in Springfield," Hultgren said. "We need again to voice the tragedy of what the Democrats in Springfield have been doing to our great state. And Win it back, take it back. Now is the year."

But that was the same message the GOP had two years ago, after the spectacular fall of Democrat Rod Blagojevich, and they were unable to regain control of the General Assembly or to win the governor's office. Add to that the presidential race with Barack Obama expected to easily carry his home state this fall.

While Democrats are going through some difficult times, the statewide odds remain in their favor this election, and possibly for years to come in Illinois.

When Congressman Hultgren spoke at the fairgrounds, the faint sound of cicadas could be heard in the background. The insects' hum is quieter than protestors' chants, but it may be just as telling.

Story source: Illinois Public Radio