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posted: 8/29/2012 5:00 AM

Editorial: A stronger state GOP good for Illinois

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The Daily Herald Editorial Board

As the national Republican Party gets ready to officially nominate Mitt Romney as its candidate for president, those in the state GOP are focusing not only on November but on 2014 as well. And well they should. If the Republican Party wants to be a major player again in Illinois, it needs to come together and figure out how best to capitalize on Democratic weaknesses.

One way is to make as strong a showing as possible in President Obama's home state in November. Most polls show Obama winning Illinois easily, so the focus of the national campaign will be elsewhere. An AP analysis says the race will be won or lost in seven states -- Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Ohio, Nevada, New Hampshire and Virginia. Illinois' one-time status as a bellwether state is a long-ago memory. It now is firmly entrenched as a blue state.

But key congressional and statehouse races are up for grabs, and that's where GOP leaders need to focus in November if they hope to remain relevant in the face of a Democratic-drawn map that could see them lose their advantage in Congress and fall further behind in the General Assembly.

Why should we care? Because we believe strong competition can clearly define candidates and the issues. And that is healthy for any democracy. And it certainly would be healthy for Illinois, where the recent weakness of Republicans coupled with a Democratic stranglehold on the legislature is contributing to a sense of futility and malaise in state government.

Clearly, this week also starts a more informal look at the 2014 governor's race. Ten years ago, the Republicans lost the governor's office after 26 years. Despite the scandal surrounding Rod Blagojevich, the GOP was unable to win the office back in 2010 from Pat Quinn, the lieutenant governor who took over after Blagojevich was forced out.

"Republicans for a variety of reasons lost a really close race for governor in 2010," David Yepsen, of Southern Illinois University's Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, told the Daily Herald's Kerry Lester. "They don't want to repeat those mistakes again, but it's going to be difficult because there's a lot of pent-up gubernatorial ambition."

Therein lies the key for the party. Should a large field of candidates for governor do damage to each other in the primary? Or, is there someone to rally around to give their party its best shot at winning? Lester reports that a Daily Herald survey of delegates at the convention strongly supports state Treasurer Dan Rutherford as the party's best chance at winning the governor's office in 2014. Others also are in the mix, however. The key question, for the governor's race and perhaps for some other positions as well, will become how much of and how volatile a mix the party can tolerate.

Regardless of whether a Republican or Democrat wins the governor's mansion, state government will be strengthened if GOP candidates at all levels rise above personal and regional ambitions and produce a stronger, more effective influence on public policy.

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