Wanna buy a “Fire Madigan” dog tee-shirt?

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CLEARWATER, FL – If a Republican wins the Illinois governorship in 2014, might he or she have some explaining to do to House Speaker Michael Madigan?

The state GOP has made “Fire Madigan” a central part of its 2012 political messaging, even debuting a new website Monday that has everything from coffee mugs to golf shirts to dog tee-shirts for sale, all emblazoned with the party’s anti-Madigan credo.

“Everybody needs to buy them,” state GOP chief Pat Brady told Illinois delegates attending the Republican National Convention. “They’ll be the hottest, trendiest thing in the state of Illinois in the next four years.”

There’s no question the idea could make the party a buck (the most expensive item appears to be a $34.99 hoodie) and is memorable, but that could part of its problem.

Madigan, once nicknamed the Velvet Hammer, is the top powerbroker in Springfield and is known to have the most institutional knowledge and longest political memory of anyone when it comes to slights and grudges.

In other words, Madigan can make life miserable for any governor. Just ask Rod Blagojevich, whose clashes with Madigan were legendary. As a result, Blagojevich’s batting average in getting things passed the Illinois House stood somewhere below his weight. That doesn’t even take into account that Madigan led the charge to impeach Blagojevich.

Nonetheless, state Sen. Kirk Dillard (R-Hinsdale), one of about a half dozen Republicans who are exploring possible gubernatorial runs, used the state party’s “Fire Madigan” message as a bit of a rallying cry during a short speech Monday to Illinois delegates attending the Republican National Convention.

Following through on the “Fire Madigan” theme, Dillard told delegates, would “restore decency, stability and civility again in state government.”

But later, Dillard tread carefully when asked if saying things like that publicly might burn him if he runs for governor and someday wants Madigan’s help in passing or killing a bill in the House.

“I respect the speaker,” Dillard said. “I’ve worked with him well in different capacities throughout the years. It’s not personal. It’s professional.”

State Treasurer Dan Rutherford, who also is flirting with a gubernatorial run, made clear the state party was doing its own thing with the anti-Madigan messaging but insisted the speaker definitely deserves blame for the state’s awful financial state.

“Let’s just say there’s been one person that’s been on the statewide stage longer than anyone else and with that comes responsibility,” Rutherford told the Sun-Times.

Former Gov. Jim Edgar knows a thing or two about dealing with Madigan. While the ex-governor embraces the state GOP’s strategy, he said he has some Madigan-induced battle scars from dealing with him in the 1980s and 1990s.

“When I was running for re-election, I had a quadruple bypass, and I said at least one of those four bypasses, I credit to Mike Madigan,” Edgar said.

Of all the negative attention, Edgar said of Madigan, “I’m sure he’ll just chuckle at all this.”

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