SPRINGFIELD — For a second day in a row, a political rally was held under the sweltering sun on the Illinois State Fairgrounds.
With Gov. J.B. Pritzker and state Democrats having their day in the sun Wednesday, it was Republicans’ turn Thursday, with party leaders attempting to navigate their way out of the political wilderness and back into power in the nation’s sixth-largest state next year.
“Let’s fire Pritzker,” exclaimed state GOP Chair Don Tracy, echoing the slogan that formed the backdrop for speakers at the rally.
“King Pritzker has been a complete disaster for the state of Illinois,” he said. “Unbalanced budgets and record spending, successful and unsuccessful attempts at tax hikes, no meaningful ethics reform and silence on corruption … I sense that the pendulum is starting to swing our way.”
But throughout the day, which began with a joint meeting of the Illinois GOP State Central Committee and Illinois Republican County Chairs Association in downtown Springfield before the festivities moved to the fairgrounds in the afternoon, it was clear that internal divisions remain between conservatives and moderates on how the party wins back the voters it needs to win statewide again.
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Here are some other sights, scenes and storylines from Republican Day at the Illinois State Fair:
A wide open GOP primary for governor
All three declared Republican candidates for Illinois Governor — state Sen. Darren Bailey, R-Xenia; businessman Gary Rabine; and former state Sen. Paul Schmipf — spoke before central committee members Thursday morning and mingled with supporters at the fairgrounds later in the day.
Adding to the intrigue was the presence of Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville; former state Sen. Kirk Dillard; and state Sen. Jason Barickman, R-Bloomington, all of whom have been linked to a possible run for the office as some in the moderate wing of the party look for an alternative to the current field.
Dillard, the chairman of the Chicago Regional Transportation Authority, said he’s “not looking to run for governor,” but has been approached by some business leaders about the prospect.
“If the election were held today, I think JB Pritzker would win against the current field,” Dillard said, speaking with reporters after the rally. “But it’s early, and I’m here as an observer just to see what what these candidates are like, but I worry that the Republicans, if they run somebody, they’ll run somebody that’s unelectable. And you’ll want to win the general election and govern when you get there.”
Some of these concerns were on display Thursday, with Bailey, a supporter of former President Donald Trump, refusing to say whether President Joe Biden legally won the 2020 election.
Rabine, on the other hand, continued to falsely claim that “thousands of people have died” as a result of taking the COVID-19 vaccine. There have only been three deaths directly tied to vaccines.
“What I’m reading are stories of people dying from from the vaccine,” Rabine said. When asked where he was reading them, he replied “all over.”
Schmipf struck a more unifying theme, calling himself a “a common-sense conservative.”
“We need to focus on earning the people of Illinois’ trust by offering solutions that can make our state a better place and solutions that can unify our state,” he said.
Could the field expand?
Barickman, Davis and Dillard did not close the door on jumping in the race.
Davis said his desire is to remain in Congress, but his plans could change based on how the map is drawn.
“I don’t know what my future holds because my future … is going to depend upon what the corrupt democrats in Springfield are going to do when they redraw our congressional map,” Davis said. “I’ll know what I want to do in the future based upon what that battlefield looks like.”
Barickman said he hasn’t made a decision yet.
“I think at the top of the ticket we need a candidate who can unite and grow our base in a manner that makes us competitive in a statewide general election,” Barickman said. “That’s my primary interest. I want to see us put a candidate forward who can fulfill that. And as for myself, we’re just not there yet on any decisions for any offices.”
Secretary of State’s race
There is one open seat among the state’s constitutional officers in 2022: secretary of state. On Wednesday, Democrats heard from four candidates seeking to succeed the retiring Jesse White.
But, so far, no Republican have jumped in the race, which offers perhaps the best opportunity for the party to win a statewide contest next year.
State Rep. Dan Brady, R-Bloomington, is interested and appears to be moving closer to jumping in. But, he wasn’t ready to commit when asked on Wednesday.
Another name to keep an eye on: State Rep. Tom Demmer, R-Dixon. Speaking with Lee Enterprises on Republican Day, he confirmed he’s “looking at a statewide run.”
“Many people have encouraged me to look at the secretary of state’s office and I’m looking there and seeing what things we could do to make that office function better and be more responsive to the people,” Demmer said. “So I think there’s some interesting opportunities out there.”
Demmer said he believes there’s “some complacency” among Democrats and that there are enough people who are looking for “something different out of state government” for a Republican with the right message to win.
“I think we have to look for crossover support,” Demmer said. “We have to find people who are either independents or Democrats today who are not satisfied with the current leadership.”
Demmer, 35, has served in the House since 2013. He is the deputy minority leader.
Illinois GOP targets Pritzker during Republican Day, aims to appeal to diverse voters
For a party looking to expand its voting base in a deep blue state, Republicans got off to a poor start Thursday when rally emcee Paul Palazzolo, the Sangamon County Circuit Clerk, began the event with a series of off-color jokes about Pritzker’s weight and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s appearance.
“Yesterday, the governor skipped out of the Democratic Party’s brunch. You know that had to be difficult for him, because, well, you know, brunch,” Palozzolo said. “In fact, some people say that J.B. stands for ‘Just Bacon.'”
“How about that Nancy Pelosi? She just looks younger every day, doesn’t she? She’s had her face lifted so many times, now every time she crosses her leg, her mouth snaps open,” Palazzolo said, to a mix of cheers and groans. “Although she’s a little upset right now. Last week, a Peeping Tom threw up on her window sill.”
Needless to say, Palazzolo’s remarks earned him a rebuke from Democratic Party of Illinois Chair Robin Kelly.
“While a diverse group of Democrats spent Wednesday highlighting the many accomplishments we’ve secured helping real people with real issues, the Illinois GOP brought nothing more to the table than misogyny, bigotry and hate,” she said.