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updated: 1/22/2013 8:13 AM

Illinois shining today, but political limelight soon could wane

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  • A woman holding a U.S. flag stands for a photograph with a cardboard cutout of President Barack Obama is displayed in front of the Capitol building ahead of the presidential inauguration in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Sunday, Jan. 20, 2013.

      A woman holding a U.S. flag stands for a photograph with a cardboard cutout of President Barack Obama is displayed in front of the Capitol building ahead of the presidential inauguration in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Sunday, Jan. 20, 2013.
    Associated Press

  • Al Larson

      Al Larson

  • Terry Link

      Terry Link

  • Cristina Castro

      Cristina Castro

  • Lauren Beth Gash

      Lauren Beth Gash

 
 

For Illinois Democrats, President Barack Obama's candidacy for the White House that began six years ago was a huge opportunity to grab the political limelight, from the best seats at the party's nominating conventions to the attention that comes for the many local party faithful who know Obama personally.

And now, Obama's second inauguration today could provide the beginning of the end -- at least for now -- of being on that national political pedestal.

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The situation for Democrats in Illinois has rarely been better after huge gains in November's election. But politicians always are looking ahead, and on the presidential level, the chattering soon will be about the next nominee from somewhere else.

"Illinois is not going to be in the forefront like it was in the last four years," said state Sen. Terry Link, a Waukegan Democrat and friend of Obama. "You never know when it's going to happen again."

Link plans to be among the Illinoisans in Washington, D.C., for Obama's second inauguration, but he expects a different scene with smaller crowds.

"The fact is, it's never as exciting and thrilling as it was the first time," Link said.

The difficulties of governing perhaps have tempered Obama's brand, and his second oath of office might not carry the same historic weight as his first in 2009.

Schaumburg Mayor Al Larson was in the Washington, D.C., area for a mayors' convention that ended Saturday, but high hotel prices and other factors will prevent him from being on the National Mall today like he was four years ago.

"I can always watch it on a big-screen TV," Larson said.

Cristina Castro was a first-time delegate at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte last year, but the Elgin resident said between the crowds and the expense, she's "happy staying home and being supportive" while watching on TV.

Castro said she will never forget being five rows from the convention stage, seeing the president accept the party's nomination in September.

"The electricity of the convention can't be topped for me," she said.

Illinois Democrats, particularly in the suburbs, have a lot to smile about in 2013 as they come off a November election in which they won all three of their targeted races for Congress and sent a historic number of party members to Springfield.

New Democratic U.S. Reps. Bill Foster of Naperville and Brad Schneider of Deerfield will join other members of the Illinois delegation in watching today's events at the Capitol. U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth, a Hoffman Estates Democrat, will be near the stage on a wheelchair-accessible platform alongside Rhode Island Democrat Jim Langevin, who also uses a wheelchair.

All three new suburban members will ride the momentum into the 2014 races for governor, U.S. Senate, and their own suburban congressional seats -- races that in some cases are already brewing even before Obama stands at the Capitol today to start his second term.

"To be even a small part of the second inauguration of a president from my own state and in my first term is extraordinary," Schneider said. "So, like the millions in attendance or watching on TV, I am most excited to be a witness to this historical moment."

Lauren Beth Gash of Highland Park, a local party leader, said getting those freshmen suburban Democrats re-elected in 2014 is one of the key ways local party members can help Obama in his second term.

"There's no question we'll be working to re-elect our tremendous team," she said.

That might not be a slam-dunk. The Republican wave in the 2010 midterm election helped sweep three suburban Republicans into Congress, just as 2012 did for the Democrats.

Gash said she's going to the inauguration like she did in 2009 because even though the scene is likely to be different, Obama's second election showed that 2008 wasn't a fluke.

"It's an opportunity to follow through with a very clear mandate," Gash said.

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