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updated: 9/9/2012 6:56 AM

Convention delegates home to focus on getting out suburban vote

Suburban delegates urged to get out the vote

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  • Lauren Beth Gash

      Lauren Beth Gash

  • Joseph Folisi

      Joseph Folisi

 
 

Clad in shorts and sandals and breakfasting on bacon and eggs, former Gov. Jim Edgar told a crowd of Illinois delegates in Tampa that the Republican National Convention -- filled with meetings, speeches and parties from morning until late at night -- would constitute "resting, in some ways."

"When you get home, we have a lot of work to do," Edgar told them, silverware clattering in the background.

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In the eight weeks before the Nov. 6 election, he said, Republicans must spare no effort in "regaining the state of Illinois," with its Democratic-controlled legislature and governor's mansion.

Democratic delegates, fresh from their convention that ended Thursday in Charlotte, N.C., got the same message. Their mission: capitalize on President Barack Obama's home state popularity and a new political map engineered by Democrats and take congressional seats away from the GOP.

On both sides, the hundreds of Illinois convention delegates, many of them local politicians or party volunteers, will be on the front lines. Newly armed with talking points and playbooks full of snappy applause lines, they'll go door-to-door, make phone calls, raise money and host events to try to get voters to swing their way.

"I feel strongly that we need to make sure that we explain to people back home what the situation is and we get the word out to people," said Democratic delegate Lauren Beth Gash of Highland Park, a former state representative and leader of the active 10th Congressional District Democrats in the northern suburbs.

Firing up the rank-and-file for the long road to November is one major goal of the conventions. Delegates rub elbows with political power brokers and decision makers and are on hand for stirring speeches from each party's stars -- from Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to Democratic former President Bill Clinton.

But those are over now.

And two months of politicking, fundraising and getting out the vote remain.

GOP delegates will be put to work as part of the statewide Illinois Victory Program, a plan based on U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk's winning strategy against Democrat Alexi Giannoulias in the 2010 U.S. Senate campaign. Its goal is to maximize resources by using strategically placed volunteer centers to help candidates in races up and down the ticket, including suburban congressional races and Illinois House and Senate races.

GOP delegate Joseph Folisi, president of the Schaumburg Township GOP, says in the coming weeks he'll be "very, very involved with quite a significant campaign plan."

The township GOP will lend volunteers to the nearest Victory program center off Rand Road in Arlington Heights, he said.

"We're all on the same team," Folisi said. "It's just a question of what people can do and where people can go."

Democrats have launched similar efforts, including a focus on energizing young voters who were key to the party's 2008 victories.

Democratic delegate Moises Garcia of West Chicago is an officer with the DuPage Young Democrats organization. He says getting young people in DuPage County to the polls is an important way to make further inroads into the traditionally Republican county.

"I'm tired of hearing this notion of the youth not getting behind the president," Garcia said.

In Illinois, the stakes are high. Republicans plan to capitalize on unemployment numbers and Obama's dipping approval ratings to try to net crucial swing votes in the suburbs and downstate.

Democrats tout the strengthening economy and social causes like legalized same-sex marriage and women's health care to try to lure suburban moderates who can be key to winning big elections in Illinois.

Five Illinois congressional races, three in the suburbs, are shaping up as big battlegrounds.

Democrat Tammy Duckworth of Hoffman Estates is challenging Republican U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh of McHenry in the 8th District in Cook, DuPage and eastern Kane counties; Democrat Brad Schneider of Deerfield faces off against Republican U.S. Rep. Bob Dold of Kenilworth in the 10th District in Lake and northern Cook counties; and Democratic former U.S. Rep. Bill Foster of Naperville will try to beat Republican U.S. Rep. Judy Biggert of Hinsdale in the 11th District in DuPage and Will counties.

And at the state level, the election will determine how big Democrats' majorities in Springfield are, which could help determine major policy questions. The state's income tax increase is set to expire Jan. 1, 2015, for example, days before the new batch of state lawmakers elected this year would leave office. They'll have to decide whether to renew the tax.

While many of the hottest Illinois Senate races are likely to be downstate this year, a full slate of tight contests for Illinois House will keep the suburban party faithful busy.

Even with a sophisticated organization, Folisi said, delegates and volunteers will use a lot of shoe leather.

"Personal contact is the key. You can do mailers and all that. While they are important, the personal contact and the ground game is what works the best. People get tired of the robo calls and getting four pieces of mail a day on the election."

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