GOP Day takes over state fair

August 19, 2010 (SPRINGFIELD, Ill.)

Party leaders were careful not to seem too gleeful.

"Can you feel it? Can you feel we're gonna win? You betcha!" said Rep. Mark Kirk, the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate.

The stage was bigger, there were more people on it, and the crowd for Republican Day was larger than it has been since the 1990s.

For the first time since 2002, party leaders believe they can win several statewide offices and regain control of one or both chambers of the General Assembly.

"Everybody knows the wind is at our backs. All the pundits are saying there has never been a year like this," said State Sen. Christine Radogno (R), the senate minority leader.

"We can't let our guard down. We can't coast to the finish line. There is too much at stake," said State Sen. Bill Brady (R), the nominee for governor.

Wednesday's Governor's Day picnic and rally for Pat Quinn and the rest of the Democratic ticket was slightly smaller and decidedly less enthusiastic than the GOP gathering. The party's 2006 nominee for governor, Rod Blagojevich, was found guilty in federal court less than 24 hours earlier and faces a likely retrial on nearly two dozen undecided counts. The Republicans will also continue hammering the ruling party for its inability to resolve the state's $13 billion deficit.

"This is going to keep the issue on the front burner. People will be asking Pat Quinn, 'where were you when all this was going on," said Pat Brady, the Illinois Republican chairman. "The Democrats haven't had any accomplishments other than making us one of the worst financially-run states in the country."

Even U.S. Senate candidate Mark Kirk is using the state budget as an issue in his race against Democrat Alexi Giannoulias.

"Governor Quinn wants to raise the income tax by at least 33 percent. Giannoulias backs the state income tax increase," said Kirk.

While the Republican crowd was more enthusiastic and slightly larger, it was decidedly less diverse than the Democrats, with only a handful of blacks and even fewer Latinos and Asian Americans.

"I don't think it matters what your color is, what your religion is, where you live. You want to make sure you have a job. You want to make sure you can pay your bills. You want to make sure you can live in a state you can be proud of," said State Rep. Tom Cross, House minority leader

"We do need to do more as a party to reach out to the black community and communities of color," said congressional candidate Isaac Hayes (R).

Attorney general candidate Steven Kim says his statewide candidacy is evidence the party is making progress.

"I really think our message is really resonating out there because most Asian Americans are small business owners and they are worried about the economy," said Kim.

Questions remain about the Illinois Republican Party's organization. In recent years, the organization at the county level has been described as being in a shambles. Democrats are hoping that remains to be the case in November.

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