At the height of the Republican National Convention in August, we took the opportunity to reflect on the status of the GOP in Illinois. Illinois Republicans, we said, would need a strong showing in congressional and legislative races to increase their relevancy. Who could have predicted the thrashing they would receive at the polls weeks later? Not only did the GOP congressional delegation drop from 11 to six, but Democrats strengthened their grip on the General Assembly.
Such majority party dominance threatens the balance and the benefits of a strong two-party system in Illinois -- balance that fosters vibrant competition that in turn defines candidates and the issues more clearly.
Leading Republicans are lining up for the 2014 governor's race, and the Illinois party has a chance to regroup and refocus. If change was the Democrats' buzzword four years ago, carpe diem should be the state GOP's now.
In spite of being outspent and outmapped, party leaders appear to be pointing fingers inward, and that's an important step. "It's clear to me that if we're going to win, and not be in the minority, we need to be more inclusive, more diverse, and more open," party Chairman Bill Brady told The Associated Press.
In many ways, state Republicans' woes mirror those of the national party, which has been criticized for alienating Latino voters, women, African-Americans and blue-collar workers. It has lost touch with Middle America and its own core. Some analysts even suggest that Mitt Romney might have won the presidency if the party had united in his favor earlier. Similarly, the Illinois Republican Party cannot allow any such encumbrances on its candidates for governor.
Among suburban voters, again poised to be a force in 2014, Republicans will need to recapture the attention of suburban women and the growing minority populations. The prospective candidates for governor so far consist of half a dozen white men -- demographically not a particularly strong start -- and Illinois' Republican congressional delegation will have no women or minorities in its ranks. Nevertheless, there are things Republicans can do to regain not only credibility but suburban adherents who have been pulled to the middle.
These might include rethinking immigration and social issues as well as creating a more unified front -- or at the very least clarifying and modifying the rhetoric on these issues. Some suburban Democratic candidates have appealed to independents who find fault with the more traditional Republican policies and those who pushed them at all costs.
"The key word is moderate," state Rep. Fred Crespo, a Hoffman Estates Democrat who won re-election, told State Government Writer Mike Riopell. "It seems like the pattern is we're all fiscal conservatives up here."
A stronger state GOP will stick to its established traditions -- fiscal responsibility and freedom and opportunity to empower individuals -- while cultivating a blend of ideological purity and realism. The two-party system will thrive in Illinois only if the GOP can find a way to pull itself together.