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posted: 3/5/2010 12:01 AM

New Lake Co. GOP leader may reflect growing conservative movement

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  • Bob Cook, of Wauconda, shakes hands after being named the new leader of the Lake County Republican Party during their convention Wednesday night.

      Bob Cook, of Wauconda, shakes hands after being named the new leader of the Lake County Republican Party during their convention Wednesday night.
    Vince Pierri | Staff Photographer

By Vincent Pierri

As the new leader of the Lake County Republican Party, Bob Cook, represents a growing conservative trend among party members, some observers say.

But the 53-year-old from Wauconda said he's more concerned about winning elections than worrying about political labels.

Cook was declared the party boss after incumbent Dan Venturi withdrew his candidacy in a surprise announcement Wednesday night at the biennial convention in Waukegan. Venturi, the Lake Villa Township supervisor, withdrew his name from consideration saying party unity was most important now.

Cook doesn't want contention between himself and the former chairman.

"Dan and I agree on the major issues," he said. "My goal is to build up the party. I want to make sure people hear our message so that our candidates can win elections."

A member of the conservative Republican Assembly of Lake County, Cook brings a different dynamic to the leadership, observers say.

RALC Chairman Raymond True said Cook will be in better touch with the conservative members of the party.

True said Venturi's endorsement of Maria Rodriguez over Joe Walsh for the suburban 8th Congressional District was a sign he was out of touch with conservative voters. True also feels Venturi was influenced by the House Republican leader in Springfield.

"Venturi was in line with the Republican platform, but that didn't always show up in his endorsements," True said. "He was a puppet for Tom Cross in some situations."

Distinguishing himself from Venturi, Cook said, he won't endorse anyone in primary elections.

"I look at primary endorsements differently than others do," he said. "I think it's a mistake for the chairman of the party to endorse anyone in primary elections. I won't do that. It's difficult to work with someone you didn't endorse once the general election comes around."

Kent Redfield, a political science professor at the University of Illinois at Springfield, said Cook's election may be illustrative of shifting political positions among the Republicans.

"It is probably reflective of the energy and organization within the conservative wing of the party as the center of the party gets larger," he said. "As the middle gets bigger, the left and right become more vocal and more energized."

If there is a growing conservative movement in Lake County, that doesn't mean it's happening all over, Redfield said.

"There has been tension between the longtime, established Republican Party in Lake County and more conservative groups," Redfield said. "The same is true to some extent in other suburban counties. But I don't think there is a conservative mega-shift or a dominance in the party in general."

A former Wauconda Township Republican chairman, Cook is also a former U.S. Marine. All three of his sons have done tours in Iraq with the Army. One son is serving in Afghanistan now.

Those military ties are an asset and distinguish Cook from Venturi, True said.

"Bob Cook is a strong supporter of the military, which resonates with many people in Lake County," he said. "Venturi doesn't have those ties."

Admittedly more to the right than Venturi, Cook is reluctant to label himself

"I am a conservative," Cook said. "But sometimes it's a matter of people's perspective. Those tags are unreliable."