Party chairman: DuPage Republicans facing unity challenges

Editor's Note: A Q&A with new Democratic Party of DuPage County Chairwoman Cynthia Borbas is coming next weekend.

His rise within the ranks of the DuPage Republican Party came one small step at a time, and now Marty Keller is chairman of the political organization that traditionally has found voter favor in the state's second-largest county.

Keller, of Wheaton, got involved in his party first as a precinct committeeman in Milton Township.

From that start in 2004, he has stepped into roles as an elected Milton Township trustee and then as the employed executive director of the township's Community Emergency Response Team; as chairman of the Milton Township Republicans; and then as vice chairman and now chairman of the countywide organization.

Keller recently sat down with the Daily Herald to share the party's outlook after a 2018 election that found Democrats winning an unprecedented number of county, state and national seats.

Here is an edited version of the conversation.

Q. Is the Republican Party still a sure winner in DuPage County?

A. No, it's not. The number of people who have moved here from Cook County is unbelievable. They move from Cook and then they vote Democratic. They say it takes three voting cycles for someone to change their party. It's a cultural thing. They should have realized there's a disconnect between this area and how well it's run by Republicans and that area. It takes them a while to realize these Republicans do a good job.

Ultimately, the point has got to be who's doing the best job for the people.

Q. What do you think of the newly elected Democrats at the county level?

A. Some of the Democrats are just fighting everything and being divisive.

But in their campaign, this was kind of the theme: "We're looking for a better DuPage County, more inclusive." So let's not be inclusive by being divisive and fighting everything.

But I like Sadia Covert from Naperville. If she wants to stay a Democrat, she can, or if she wants to be a Republican, we'd be glad to have her. She's logical. She's common-sense. She wants to do a good job for the people.

Q. Is President Donald Trump a liability for suburban Republicans?

A. If you're a Democrat in DuPage County, what are you going to rail about? Not the county services, the forest preserves, the schools, the parks. What's the one thing you can fire up your troops about? Trump. If he didn't have a Twitter account, we'd probably all think more highly of him.

But with the Democrats, there was a point to say, "Let's send a message to Trump by not voting for any Republicans." Even for the local dogcatcher, the idea was to send a message by voting only for Democrats.

Q. What's the party's biggest challenge moving forward?

A. Until about 2008, if you had nine good, strong township organizations, you won. That was it. That's not the case anymore. You need a stronger county organization.

Democrats are spending more money in the county. So we have to raise more and campaign earlier. Now we need nine independent organizations to work together and to share fundraising contacts. We have great local organizations, now we're trying to get them to unite.

Q. What is the party's focus for the 2020 election?

A. DuPage Republicans have only about half the precincts covered with committeemen. Milton Township is well-covered, but some other townships don't have enough committeemen to work their precincts the way the Democrats are doing by hiring people. They're hiring young workers to meet one-on-one with voters and help them sign up to vote by mail. Then when the ballot arrives, they can sit next to you and help you fill in the squares because it's not at a polling place, it's in your home.

If you've got the money to do it, that's the right approach - a personal appeal. That's good politics. That's the way it should be done.

So we're going to have to do with hands and feet what they're doing with hiring people. I'd rather have it be volunteer than paying people. And I remind people, "Don't preach, listen." Find out what they're upset about and how we can address it; don't tell them what to be angry about.

• Daily Herald staff writer Robert Sanchez contributed to this report.

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