Kirk leads GOP unity at state fair

August 15, 2013 (SPRINGFIELD, Ill.)

What a difference a day made at the Illinois State Fairgounds. Republicans now insist they are the unified party, ready to do battle in 2014.

U.S. Senator Mark Kirk, back on his feet after a stroke 18 months ago, is the walking inspiration for Illinois Republicans.

"Do not give up on this state," Kirk said. "It's worth too much. Never Give up!"

The state party is energized for next year's elections. Its leaders cite persistent state fiscal problems and rising unemployment during a decade of democratic control.

"They run the state, for God's sake, and the state has been run into the ground," said Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka.

"It's nice to be able to come here as Republicans today and know you win by forfeit because the other team doesn't show up," said Illinois Republican Chairman Jack Dorgan.

At Wednesday's democratic events, state party chairman, House Speaker Mike Madigan, was a no show. And Governor Pat Quinn saw his party's lawmakers, angry about their vetoed salaries, boycott Quinn's fairgrounds picnic.

"Republicans are certainly getting along better than the Democrats in the state," said Senator Kirk Dillard.

Dillard is one of four candidates for the 2014 Republican nomination. He narrowly lost the 2010 GOP primary to Senator Bill Brady, who lost to Pat Quinn. Brady will run again.

"We're going to build on the foundation we started and finish the job," Brady said.

State treasurer Dan Rutherford is in the race.

"I'm the only Republican who's running for governor who's actually won a statewide race," he said.

And a political novice is in: Wealthy Winnetka businessman Bruce Rauner, who rode his Harley to the fair:

"We got a lot of support," Rauner said. "We're building grassroots all over the state, it's awesome."

As the candidates made nice Thursday, they focused on fiscal issues, avoiding the social issues that in recent years have divided Republicans and pushed the party's message to the right.

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