SPRINGFIELD — Illinois Republicans plotted their return to power during their day at the Illinois State Fair on Thursday, pitching the importance of fielding candidates for every office up for election next year “from governor to dog catcher.”
But so far, the party’s prospective ticket for top offices in next year’s election is made up of largely unknown candidates who’ll have to build statewide name recognition and overcome a significant money disadvantage to keep up with Democrats, who currently hold all six statewide offices as well as the U.S. Senate seat that will be on the ballot.
State GOP Chair Don Tracy said it’s too early to know who the party’s champion might be for the statewide offices that are up for grabs. Asked how the party will overcome its lack of funds in comparison to the Democrats, Tracy said “money can’t buy love.” He added that he doesn’t “think it can buy a re-election by this governor.”
Billionaire Gov. J.B. Pritzker has already seeded his campaign fund with $35 million in March, after pumping $171 million of his personal fortune into his 2019 campaign.
“Money is a big influence in politics, but it’s not everything,” Tracy said.
Members of the party and supporters rallied on the Director’s Lawn at the state fairgrounds Thursday afternoon, toting signs that read “Defeat J.B.,” “Fire Pritzker, Hire Bailey” or carrying tote bags emblazoned with “Darren Bailey for Governor” in support of the state senator from southern Illinois who is vying for the chance to unseat Pritzker.
Others held up signs that read “Save Illinois,” wore stickers that said “My governor is a tyrant” or tried to stay cool in the nearly 90-degree heat with “Rabine for Governor” fans in apparent support of gubernatorial candidate Gary Rabine.
Republicans stressed the need to fill next year’s ticket with Republican candidates, ahead of what Mark Shaw, the co-chair of the state’s GOP, called a “do-or-die election.”
“We have to have candidates everywhere, up and down the ballot, for everything from governor to dog catcher, ladies and gentlemen. So, I encourage you to get involved, step up,” Shaw said at a morning meeting of the state’s Republican state central committeemen at a Springfield hotel. “Instead of sitting on your couch and complaining about what isn’t getting done, be part of what is getting done.”
Rank and file members of the party at the hotel meeting heard from Bailey of Xenia, suburban Bull Valley businessman Rabine and former state Sen. Paul Schimpf of Waterloo, who are all vying for the chance to oust Pritzker.
Though firing Pritzker was a main message of the day, none of the three announced GOP candidates for governor got a spot on the stage for the afternoon rally, the day’s main event.
U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis of downstate Taylorville, who has been mentioned as a potential GOP gubernatorial candidate, did get a speaking role on the afternoon stage as well as at the morning meeting.
He said his political future — and potential decision to run for governor — is dependent on how the “corrupt Democrats” decide to draw the state’s congressional maps, suggesting he’d be more inclined to run for governor if the Democrats eliminated his congressional district or threw him into someone else’s district.
Others addressing the party at the hotel included state Rep. Tom Demmer, a Dixon Republican who said he’s still “exploring” a run for Illinois secretary of state, and state Rep. Dan Brady of Bloomington, who may also seek the party’s nomination to succeed outgoing Democrat Jesse White.
Republicans who’ve said they want a shot at the top of the ticket include Bobby Piton, a portfolio manager who bills himself as a “Conservative Patriot committed to preserving our Freedom and Republic,” and Allison Salinas, whose Facebook page says she stands up “for the unborn, backing our 2nd Amendment and standing up for our law enforcement agencies.”
Others include Peggy Hubbard, a Navy veteran and former police officer, and Tim Arview, who bills himself as a “conservative Republican” on his Facebook page.
None were given speaking parts at the afternoon rally or the morning meeting.
In addition to recruiting candidates, party leaders vowed to hunt for votes in the Chicago area.
Cook County Republican Chairman Sean Morrison said the party understands the “path to victory comes through Cook County” — and apparently so do some of the prospective candidates.
“There are a lot of people motivated — which people will see over the next few months — there are a lot of ... good quality people motivated to run for a lot of offices on the Republican ticket. As chairman, I’ve fielded many of those inquiries over the last six, seven months, and so we’ve got game plans that are being put in effect there.”
The shifting of next year’s primary from March to June was “the best gift” Democrats gave Republicans, Morrison said, adding the extra time will give the party more time to execute its game plan.
“The best thing we got was another seven months of runway,” Morrison said. “The Democrats thought that it benefits them, we’ll see how it all ends up in November of 2022.”