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Illinois Republicans Confident Of Comeback

Illinois Congressman Darin LaHood addresses the party faithful at the Illinois Republican Party's annual State Fair rally on Aug. 15, 2019.
Brian Mackey
NPR Illinois
Illinois Congressman Darin LaHood addresses the party faithful at the Illinois Republican Party's annual State Fair rally on Aug. 15, 2019.

The Illinois Republican Party’s top brass says it’s optimistic about its chances in 2020. Officials rallied the base Thursday at the Illinois State Fair.

Illinois Republicans had a rough go of it during last year’s election. They lost the governor’s mansion and fell to super minority status in both the state House and Senate. Party officials acknowledged their major defeats at Thursday's meeting, even as they’re plotting a comeback.

Leaders like Congressman Darin LaHood think the party's future is looking brighter.

“We have real opportunities, particularly when you look at how far left our state has gone with Gov. Pritzker and Mayor Lightford [sic],” he said. “We look forward to working very, very hard.”

LaHood and others’ hypothesis is that Illinois voters are not as liberal as Democrats would like to believe, and Republicans will prove it. Central to that plan is opposing Governor J.B. Pritzker’s graduated income tax proposal, which they argue would lead to unchecked future tax increases.

The GOP is fielding multiple state candidates on that message.

Illinois Republican Party Chairman Tim Schneider admits opposing the wealthy Democratic governor will be a challenge.

“We’ll tell you right out of the box: J.B. Pritzker has unlimited resources," he said, "but we believe we have a message and we will build the resources necessary. The Democrats will always out-raise us, but we’ll out-message them.”

According to the Illinois Republican Party's most recent financial report, it has just over $88,000 on hand. Schneider says Republicans are focusing on broadening their base of small contributors.

The party is also hoping to re-take the seats of freshman Congresswoman Lauren Underwood and Congressman Sean Casten, both of whom defeated Republican incumbents in the 2018 wave election. And at least four candidates are lining up to challenge longtime U.S. Senator Dick Durbin.

Schneider says the GOP plans to campaign on President Trump’s economic policies as well. Freshman state Rep. Mike Murphy, a Republican from Springfield, says Trump is an asset, despite his decidedly mixed reception statewide.

"We're going to get some voters — who probably don't vote regularly — come out,” he said. “Hopefully that will help the ticket ... but it's going to play differently throughout the state.”

Sam is a Public Affairs Reporting intern for spring 2018, working out the NPR Illinois Statehouse bureau.
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