Illinois Republicans At a Crossroads

In 2006, Illinois Republicans ran a social moderate against an unpopular governor, and lost. In 2010, they ran a social conservative against an even more unpopular governor, and lost. Now Bill Brady has moved to the center, conservatives are moving against their former standard-bearer, and the party has to decide again what sort of candidate should oppose Quinn (or a much, much more formidable foe).

Bill Brady Pat Quinn

 

In 2010, Illinois Republicans faced one of the softest targets in the country: Pat Quinn, the inadvertent governor, who had just taken over from the indicted Rod Blagojevich. Blago diminshed the power of the governor’s office before diminishing the office itself. Quinn was in a hole. Then he kept digging: “The governor’s approval rating now ranks as his lowest level of support in Tribune polling, eclipsing the previous valley of 28 percent he received from voters in a September 2010 survey.”

The GOP was faced with a choice: moderate Kirk Dillard, who promised to skim off enough moderates (and even disaffected mainstream Democrats) to return the GOP to the governor’s office, or very conservative Bill Brady, who promised to rally the base. They’d sort of been through this before. In 2006, you could hear the bolts loosening on the Blago era, even if the wheels wouldn’t come off until later. He wasn’t anywhere near the valley that Quinn hit just before the election, but his support was softening. The Tribune, via Eric Zorn, described what happened next:

Looking solely at how voters rate Blagojevich, the first-term governor would appear to be in significant trouble.More voters than not view him unfavorably and disapprove of the job he is doing as governor….

But voters’ negative view of Topinka, the three-term Republican state treasurer, has kept Blagojevich ahead in the race and hindered her attempts to promote her message.

Nearly half of all voters surveyed have an unfavorable view of the Republican nominee–reflecting Blagojevich’s TV attack ads, questions of whether she has the gravitas to be governor, and a failure to unify the disparate factions of the state GOP after a fractious March primary.

In the last month, the number of Illinois voters who have an unfavorable opinion of Topinka jumped to 49 percent from 40 percent…..

The results indicate Topinka, a former state GOP chairwoman, is still the victim of the fallout from a contentious March primary campaign that pitted establishment Republicans who have long controlled the party against conservatives seeking a takeover. Topinka, a social moderate, won the four-way primary with 38 percent of the vote and has had trouble gaining the support of the party’s conservative base.

So to knock off what looked like an easy target in Quinn, the GOP’s conservative base—extra-ascendent in 2010 with the aid of the Tea Party movement—tapped Brady for the job. It seemed like a risky move, but they’d failed with Topinka against a now-impeached governor. Now it was the conservatives’ turn.

And Brady got pounded out of the gate. As Zorn pointed out at the time, Brady’s social conservatism went against popular polling. The campaign’s first response was essentially we’re not talking about that.

“My focus this entire campaign has been on economic issues,” such as balancing the budget. Mr. Poshard tried that, too, and got “bludgeoned,” Mr. Lawrence recalls.

I asked Mr. Brady if he plans to reach out to women’s, gay or other groups, if only to let them know that it’s not personal. His response: “I’m appealing to the chamber of commerce and groups that share my view as to what’s necessary for Illinois.”

Then we can talk about that, but it doesn’t really matter since there’s nothing I can really do about it.

Then Quinn is jerk for talking about that.

Brady re-affirmed his stances for gun rights and against abortion and gay marriage and accused the governor of using social issues for political purposes.

“I’m proud of my beliefs and unlike Gov. Quinn I’m not using them to divide Illinois,” said Brady.

Brady lost by about 30,000 votes. Now he’s [Update: Pat Brady is] pro-gay-marriage, and Jim Oberweis smells blood in the water as Brady tries to prep the beleaguered Illinois GOP for 2014—when their opponent could be an even-slightly-less-popular Quinn, a wild card in Bill Daley, or the Lisa Madigan juggernaut.

The governor’s race is going to be fascinating, but before it winds up, it will be interesting to see how the GOP interprets the data it’s been given from the last two losses. A social moderate lost to Rod Blagojevich, as he was going from inspiring to inspiring skepticism; her opposite lost to his opposite, the uninspiring but trustworthy Quinn. And they have to consider the arc of history as well (PDF).

 

Photograph: Chicago Tribune

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