October 24, 2009
BY CAROL MARIN Sun-Times Columnist
'Illinois Republicans eat their own," one of my breakfast companions said Wednesday morning at a GOP candidate forum.
» Click to enlarge image
Meaning for years now, the GOP has been polarized along the fault lines of abortion, gays and guns. Conservatives reviled moderates for being pro-choice and moderates condemned conservatives for killing the party.
Can we ever forget Alan Keyes?
Will this election be different?
"Yes," says Pat Brady, the new head of the Illinois Republican Party.
"Job creation and the rotten economy," Brady said. "My neighbor just lost her job. Republicans are talking about fiscal issues. These are the social issues this year, and voters are angry."
Brady noted that at last week's breakfast, as five Republican hopefuls for governor laid out their positions on issues, their focus was on the economy, education and ethics -- not reproductive choice. Those candidates, by the way, were DuPage County Chairman Bob Schillerstrom, former Cicero town spokesman Dan Proft, state Sen. Kirk Dillard, state Sen. Bill Brady (no relation to Pat Brady) and businessman Adam Andrzejewski.
"It was a 70-minute debate, and [abortion] came up for three minutes," Brady said.
"It was," he said, "one of the most substantive debates I've ever seen."
But if there remains potential for a Republican food fight, look at the competition at the top of the ticket for the prized Senate seat once held by Barack Obama.
A win there would plant a flag high on the hill of a hoped-for Republican comeback.
Five-term North Shore Republican Rep. Mark Kirk is the GOP spear carrier of this election.
A pro-choice moderate, he has taken positions that have given conservatives in his party fits, such as being one of a few Republicans voting in support of cap-and-trade legislation to regulate carbon emissions.
Already, though, Kirk has reversed and moved to the right on that issue. And he's combat-ready against any primary opponent claiming to be a more authentic Republican.
Kirk's principal primary opponent is Patrick Hughes, 40, an attorney and real estate developer from Hinsdale. Though Hughes talks first about the economy, hot-button social concerns are clearly in his sights. And so is the Illinois GOP.
"I'm not happy with my party clearing the way for Kirk to run unopposed," Hughes said by phone Thursday. "This race is a battle for the soul of the Republican party . . . pro-business, pro-economic growth, pro-life, pro-Second Amendment."
A Rasmussen poll last week had Kirk, in a general election, neck-and-neck with Democratic front-runner Alexi Giannoulias and with small or moderate leads over Cheryle Jackson and David Hoffman.
Good news for a red guy in a blue state.
Then again, Kirk's poll numbers have tightened some.
And though he would like to keep focusing on the general election, Kirk took time last week to do a little smackdown on Hughes, who claimed to have the endorsement of Mike Ditka until Da Coach said otherwise.
The Kirk campaign quickly sent out an article from The Hill reporting the flap, even though Hughes is far behind Kirk by any measurement, with just $352,000 to Kirk's $3 million and no name recognition.
Why, I asked Kirk, did he bother?
"We take nothing for chance," he said Friday by phone from Washington.
Meanwhile, Kirk is making it clear that within his own party, he's a force to be reckoned with in a new and rebuilding GOP. One who, despite the red-meat eaters on the right, is determined to proceed with discipline.
The awful alternative, after all, is once again being served up as a blue plate special in 2010.