TAMPA -- The suburbs' most prolific Tea Partyer might have bowed out of the Republican National Convention, but presidential nominee Mitt Romney's selection of Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate signifies the Tea Party's new place at the core of the modern GOP -- a role suburban Republicans are welcoming.
Nearly two years after the Tea Party played a pivotal role in Republicans' successful bid to take control of the U.S. House of Representatives, 94 percent of respondents to a Daily Herald survey of GOP delegates from Illinois say the grass roots conservative movement has helped the party overall.
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Today's highlightsRepublican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin congressman, will address the convention, as will Sen. John McCain, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
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Only 6 percent said it had hurt Republicans.
While Tea Party members have, at times, been accused of contributing to legislative gridlock with their unyielding stances in key economic battles, including whether to raise the country's debt ceiling, their presence has ultimately helped spark important conversations in Washington, D.C., and the suburbs, delegates say.
"It has been an overall net gain and helped bring new people to the polls that are concerned for our nation's future," said delegate and state Rep. Dennis Reboletti, of Elmhurst. "The message resonates with voters: Live within your means and less government."
The Illinois delegates -- surveyed in August -- have had a steady stream of events shaping their perspective over the last 24 months.
In addition to the 2010 "red wave," which saw the most Republicans elected across the country since 1994, several Tea Partyers made GOP presidential primary bids -- Rep. Michele Bachman of Minnesota, Georgia businessman Herman Cain and Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
Jon Zahm, a delegate and former director of Rick Santorum's presidential campaign in Illinois, praised Romney's choice of Ryan, who is scheduled to address delegates at the convention this evening.
"Romney did not move to the middle in my opinion in this general election campaign. He's remained consistently conservative," Zahm said. "I think he realizes the importance of consistency. In the primary when our campaign had him on the ropes, we had him on the ropes because of inconsistencies. I think he's taken that to heart, that it would be very damaging to him to make another series of changes. I think his base would crumble."
John Jackson, of Southern Illinois University's Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, said "clearly Ryan was chosen to solidify the base and particularly the Tea Party base, and of course it's against the grain of history. That (vice presidential) candidate usually reaches toward the middle."
Illinois' most prolific Tea Partyer won't be there to see Ryan.
Walsh sidestepped the political convention in Tampa this week, choosing instead to campaign in his district. He noted in an interview July 27 with the Daily Herald and WBBM Newsradio that he'd rather work locally than "mingle with party insiders."
Walsh is making a re-election bid against Democrat Tammy Duckworth of Hoffman Estates in the 8th Congressional District, a top target for Democrats who hope to win 25 House seats in November to regain control of the lower chamber. The 8th District includes portions of northwest Cook County, central DuPage County and eastern Kane County.
Duckworth, a former assistant secretary for veterans affairs in the Obama administration, will attend the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte next week and is serving as vice chairman of the convention rules committee.
The move coincides with Walsh's strategy to portray Duckworth as a member of the Democratic establishment, and himself as an "average joe," independent of political connections.
"It's not surprising," Jackson said. "There are a number of ... candidates not going and not expecting to get much ink if they do go. Why not stay home and create more attention?"
While Walsh doesn't want a place at the convention, local Tea Partyers say the movement's stature on the local and national level comes from more strategic campaigning and work dispelling "myths" about the grass-roots movement -- which they say will only help in November in races like Walsh's.
"I think they've gotten a lot smarter about the campaigns," said Lennie Jarrett of Round Lake Beach, a 31st District Republican state Senate candidate and a founder of the Lake County Tea Party. "They're not doing as many rallies, but they're out there working the streets a lot more."
That means more door-to-door canvassing and telephone banking, and being "smart" about which races a Tea Party presence is overtly advertised in and which ones to back, instead, behind the scenes.
"They perhaps learned some lessons from the Senate races they lost (in primaries across the country)," Jackson said. "The test is will they save Joe Walsh's bacon? If they can do that, they can win anywhere."