Bush hopes to paint town red on date with Topinka ..................
Democratic blue state Illinois is flashing onto the radar of the Bush White House, with the governorship up for grabs and two high-profile House seats.
The Sun-Times has learned President Bush is coming to Chicago July 7 for a fund-raiser for Judy Baar Topinka.
The White House political operation, run by Karl Rove -- who helped convince Topinka to run against Gov. Blagojevich -- is also closely monitoring two of the most-watched House races in the country, in the west and Northwest Suburban 6th and 8th congressional districts.
Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin are seen by the White House as having very serious potential to pick off a Democratic governor, notwithstanding low approval ratings for Bush and Congress.
Hope for GOP in Illinois?
Bush's visit next month is further evidence that the White House is increasingly rallying the GOP troops in Illinois and not just making trips in to raise money for out-of-state campaigns. Illinois may be thought to be a deep blue state, with Democrats controlling the governorship, legislature, all but one statewide office and backing Democrats in the past four presidential elections.
But Republicans are seeing some red. Consider:
*Just after the March Illinois primary, Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman came to Chicago to headline a reception in Bolingbrook for the Will County Republican Central Committee and to push for African-American and Hispanic votes.
*Last month, Rove, Bush's chief political adviser, keynoted a benefit for the Lake County Republicans in Lincolnshire and breakfasted in Wheaton to whip up the ground troops working for state Sen. Peter Roskam (R-Wheaton), battling Democrat Tammy Duckworth, the wounded Iraq war vet, for the seat being vacated by retiring Republican Rep. Henry Hyde.
*Vice President Dick Cheney, in Lake Forest Monday to take out national money for the RNC, made a point of meeting campaign workers for Roskam and Dave McSweeney, the Republican running against Rep. Melissa Bean, when his plane landed in Waukegan. Cheney returns on June 23 for a McSweeney fund-raiser in Chicago.
*Behind the scenes, the Bush political operation has back channels urging Illinois involvement, including House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert and RNC treasurer Robert Kjellander, a longtime Rove friend.
The Bush trip for Topinka means the White House political operation was not in a big snit over a wisecrack made by a Topinka aide to George Will, whose column runs in the Sun-Times.
The aide said in the Will column, published in April, that Topinka did not exactly want to campaign with Bush but wanted his help to raise money "late at night'' and "in an undisclosed location.' "
It's not late at night -- Bush will headline a luncheon for Topinka -- and it's at the Drake Hotel on Michigan Avenue.
Topinka gains by campaigning with Bush, even if his ratings do not recover before November.
$1 million on the table
Bush can appeal to conservatives who may not be enthralled with the moderate Topinka. Bush will probably raise at lease $1 million for Topinka with the July event.
The Blagojevich campaign is already running ads lumping Bush, Rove and Topinka together anyway.
The spot, titled "Handpicked," started appearing in Chicago last week and a similar version ran earlier Downstate. The voiceover says Topinka is the candidate of Bush and Rove. "Right direction under Bush? What's she thinking," the narrator says.
Jennifer Duffy, managing editor of the influential Cook Political Report and who tracks the gubernatorial races, rates Illinois as "likely'" remaining Democratic.
Amy Walter, senior editor at Cook who follows House races said the Bean seat leans Democratic and the Hyde seat leans Republican.
In Illinois, the Bush White House sees some fading blue.