A downstate Republican who got into a physical tussle last year with a Democratic senator over utility legislation touted himself Friday as a potential replacement for Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno following Tuesday's big GOP losses in the Legislature.
State Sen. Kyle McCarter (R-Lebanon) confirmed his interest in ousting Radogno from her leadership post after she failed to stave off a whopping five-seat loss for Republicans in the state Senate.
"If we were a competitive college sports team with a record like this, somebody would have been fired already," McCarter told the Chicago Sun-Times.
McCarter's criticism came the same day that a conservative political action committee, Family PAC, circulated a letter to each Republican state senator, urging Radogno's ouster.
"Frankly, I think nearly anyone in that caucus could do a far better job than Christine Radogno," said Paul Caprio, director of Family PAC, who praised both McCarter (pictured right) and state Sen. Dan Duffy (R-Lake Barrington).
Caprio faulted Radogno for not appropriating proper financial "support" to anti-abortion candidates who lost and said her support of civil unions and abortion rights is "out of the mainstream of the Senate caucus."
Radogno, whose caucus will drop in size from 24 to 19 members in January, defended her backing of all Republican Senate campaigns and dismissed Caprio as an "outlier" in a party that she said must be recalibrated after Tuesday's outcome. She also took direct aim at McCarter.
"I'm not sure what we need now is an in-your-face, confrontational, white, downstate male. I love our downstate guys. I have a great relationship with them, and I'm not playing a gender card," she told the Chicago Sun-Times.
"What I'm saying, as a practical matter, is that we need to change our image. Fairly or not, we're perceived -- and these aren't my words, I've read it reported this way -- as being the party of angry white men, and that's not true by the way. The fact of the matter is perception is reality, and we need to deal with it," she said.
Caprio took issue with Radogno's implication that the party needs to rebrand itself so it again can carry appeal with moderate suburban women like herself.
"That's an insult to every woman voter who votes in this state. I'd like to find a woman who said the reason I voted for a Republican candidate is Christine Radogno," he said. "I wonder how many voters even know who the minority leadership is in Springfield, to tell you the truth. Playing this gender game is an excuse when you've lost every targeted Senate seat the Republicans had."
Radogno said it is unfair to hold her singularly accountable for what one top GOP strategist called a "bloodbath" that enabled Democrats to claim veto-proof majorities in the Legislature and win all of the contested congressional races in the suburbs.
"If everyone had done phenomenally well and this was just our result, that would be one thing. But our result was consistent with what happened across the state," she said.
McCarter, who took issue with Radogno's comments against "confrontational" downstate men, got into a shoving match on the Senate floor in 2011 with state Sen. Mike Jacobs (D-East Moline), who came at McCarter after he questioned Jacobs' sponsorship of Commonwealth Edison-backed smart-grid legislation. Jacobs' father, former state Sen. Denny Jacobs (D-East Moline), is a utility industry lobbyist.
"Did I stand up when I saw something that wasn't ethical with regards to the smart-grid bill with Mike Jacobs? Of course, I did. But I wasn't the one who came across the aisle to take a swing at a legislator. I sat in my seat where I was supposed to be," McCarter said.
He also took issue with Radogno's implication that the GOP would be best suited with a suburban woman, since Republicans across the board didn't badly with women voters, particularly in the suburbs.
"If it's all about doing better with women, having a woman in charge didn't fix things Tuesday," he said.
Radogno, who has been legislative leader since 2009, said she is confident she has lined up the 10 votes necessary to hold onto her job.
McCarter, a small business owner who has been in the Senate for four years, said he doesn't know yet how many votes he might have.