Despite dismal showings at the polls in recent elections and a highly publicized change in party leadership, the chairman of the Illinois Republican Party says the state GOP is "alive, well and being very, very active."
But Jack Dorgan says change is needed if Republicans are going to make gains in a state government dominated by Democrats.
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Dorgan grew up in an Irish Catholic family in Chicago before starting a more than 30-year career in Republican politics.
In remarks to the City Club of Chicago last week, Dorgan spoke bluntly, cracked wise and told the room of civic, business and political leaders that -- being a Chicago guy -- he's not afraid to use a little "tough love" when necessary.
Dorgan said the GOP's message needs to center on improving the economy and creating jobs. He also said the party needs to do more to appeal to minorities and independent voters and that he'd like to see an end to the "name calling" among Republicans and with Democrats.
"I just don't think that helps," Dorgan said. "I believe that turns off a whole bunch of voters."
He also took questions from the audience. Here are edited excerpts:
Q: Will the Republicans win the governorship in 2014 and if so, how?
A: More votes. I do have a sense of humor, so I try to keep it.
I think we've got great candidates running for governor (state Sens. Bill Brady and Kirk Dillard, Treasurer Dan Rutherford and businessman Bruce Rauner), and any one of them would make a great governor. I've said I wish I could put them all in a blender and just have one, but that's the nature of the beast and it's not going to happen. I think we win by talking about the things that are important to families. I know that sounds like political rhetoric, but we win by talking about getting the economy moving again in this state by being a more business-friendly state.
Q: How do you bring together the conservative and moderate wings of the party?
A: And the Palestinians and the Jews. I'm working at it. (Laughter).
It is difficult, but I think communication is key. I am sitting down with all of those who are essentially stakeholders of the Republican party. Visions vary, but as I've said, they need to pay attention and they need to get in the boat and they need to row in the same direction. I know that's hard. But people who believe in one single issue and will fall on their sword and lose an election because of one single issue I don't think are good political thinkers. I really don't.
Q: How could Republicans parlay the debacle of "Obamacare" to defeat top-ranking Democrats like Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin?
A: Obamacare, I think, is typical for Democrats. I think it's well intentioned to give health care to all but when you start making commitments and making promises and then you can't fulfill them, I think that's problematic. You see the president's (approval) numbers coming way down. His credibility is incredibly damaged by this, and I think it feeds to the opportunity that Republicans have in this cycle. I think the failure of Obamacare, as much as the president's blaming of other people, will really help Republicans across the country.