By Alexandrea Davis | Illinois Watchdog
“I think that there will be a lot of opportunities for us to pick up voters for the first time, and I think there’s much more of an opportunity for the Democrat voters to stay home,” said Randy Pollard, president of the Illinois Republican County Chairmen’s Association.
As if to underscore his point, the Republicans’ upbeat gathering was dramatically different from one held on Governor’s Day on Wednesday, when protesters representing state employee unions booed and heckled Gov. Pat Quinn and other top state Democrats.
Union protesters did not show up at Thursday’s Republican breakfast or the party’s rally on the director’s lawn of the state fairgrounds in the afternoon.
Illinois House Minority Leader Tom Cross, R-Oswego, said GOP leaders and voters are united because of dissatisfaction with Democratic leadership, from the Illinois Capitol to the White House.
“I look at what’s going on in our races, and we’ve got a lot of folks from the far right to the middle and the left that are working with us. People are disgusted with what’s going on. This is all about finances, about the budget, about the pension,” Cross said.
“They want people to work, they want people to pay their mortgages, they want people to have jobs, and you’re seeing folks come together on that issue. They’re just disgusted with taxes and (have) come together and realized we need to be (united), if we’re going to have success.”
Illinois is not a major player in the U.S. presidential race this year. But the traditionally blue state, home to President Barack Obama, could help the GOP take control of the U.S. House. The Democrats have said they want to gain control of several Illinois seats held by Republicans.
Among them is the 8th Congressional District, where tea party Republican Rep. Joe Walsh of McHenry — whom Quinn on Wednesday called “the worst congressman in America” — is running against Democrat and military veteran Tammy Duckworth.
Also key are the 17th Congressional District, where Republican Rep. Bobby Schilling faces Democrat Cheri Bustos; the 12th Congressional District, where failed GOP lieutenant governor candidate Jason Plummer faces Democrat Bill Enyart; and the 13th Congressional District, where Rodney Davis, a Republican aide to U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, faces Democrat David Gill.
With those five congressional seats up for grabs, Thursday’s Republican Day prompted talk of presumptive presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s recent selection of Wisconsin U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate. Davis said he was surprised by Romney’s selection, calling it “a bold move” that he hopes will get Illinois voters to the polls.
“You know it will change the debate in the presidential election to the economy, and I think when we talk about economic issues and the economic failures of the past 3 1/2 years, I think Gov. Romney wins that argument,” Davis said.
Voter turnout in Illinois’ March primary was low, making it important for county chairmen and other local party officials to get voters to the polls. In Rock Island County, that effort has included tea party Republicans.
“Any volunteer wants to have something to do or they’re going to lose interest or perhaps criticize,” said Rock Island County Republican Chairwoman Susan Carpentier.
“We have a very active tea party organization, but it does not want to come in and take control,” Carpentier said. “They want to help. Some of them are precinct committeemen; some want to be election judges or poll watchers. There are slots for them, and so we’ve been very blessed to be able to work very well with them.”
Alexandrea Davis is a freelance reporter for Illinois Watchdog.