New Republican national committee chairman says Illinois is key to rebuilding party trust
In the aftermath of controversial predecessor Michael Steele's administration, the National Republican Committee must work to rebuild trust with donors, new Chairman Reince Priebus told a crowd of 300 at the Cook County GOP's Lincoln Day Dinner Wednesday in Schaumburg.
Illinois -- and the suburbs -- is at the center of that equation, the Kenosha native and 39-year-old father of two said, noting the GOP is "back on the rise again" in the traditionally blue state.
Sitting down with the Daily Herald just minutes before that talk, Priebus shared his vantage point as he looks to next November and beyond.
Q. Looking forward to the 2012 election, how do Illinois and the suburbs fit into the national equation?
A. I think that Illinois is completely in play in 2012. If you look at what's happened in Illinois, state GOP Chairman Pat Brady's brought back the Republican Party to one of the best Republican parties in the country. ... You're very well represented nationally with committeemen from Illinois.
If you look at what happened in Illinois last November, the fact that the party here won the Senate race in a very contested race and (President Barack) Obama's old seat, the state party targeted four congressional races, actually won five, almost and should have won the governor's race, I think it's an odd thing for people not to think, looking forward, why wouldn't we target Illinois.
Q. You're from Wisconsin, a state that has been thrust into the spotlight in November for its ouster of so many Democratic incumbents, and again earlier this spring, with protests over new Gov. Scott Walker's challenges to public employees' collective bargaining rights. Do you see that happening in Illinois down the road?
A. It's sort of a cheesehead revolution. Illinois but for a very small difference in the governor's race, it had its own (revolution). I think Wisconsin has led the debate in this country of whether we want to have a country of more makers or more takers. And if you look at what Gov. Walker is talking about in regards to getting the state's finances back on track, and asking state employees to pay just a little bit more, your governor here is doing exactly the opposite. It's a reversal I think to what the American people and people here in Illinois are looking for.
Q. What are your concerns with redistricting and what Illinois congressional seats are you most concerned about, with Democrats controlling the political remapping process in the state?
A. I think it's more of a state issue, an issue for the state legislature.
If there's a court case over the redistricting issues in Illinois, then I think the Republicans will have to bring it. We'll see what the Democrats do, but we're going to get our ducks in a row. We're sort of on a wait-and-see approach right now, but we're going to make sure we are ready to go to court if we need to.
Q. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has targeted several suburban districts in Illinois as races they'd like to win back in 2012. What's your strategy there?
A. To keep those seats, we need to recruit the best possible candidates we can, recruit fiscal conservatives that can speak to the truth of where we're going in this country financially.
Q. We're seeing tremendous tea party growth in the Northwest suburbs. How do you see the tea party affecting the Republican Party both in the state and across the country?
A. I think the tea party movement's great for the Republican Party. I would call it the conservative movement in this country. I've often said the Republican Party is not in competition with the conservative movement in this country. We're part of the conservative movement. I think the tea party's done a good job of focusing in on issues, like for example our out of control debt. ... I think the tea party has brought to the forefront those issues in a very effective way.
Q. But is that tea party growth isolating moderate Republicans?
A. I don't think so. How could it be? (Senator Mark) Kirk, a moderate, just won in Illinois. And (10th District Rep. Robert) Dold won. I think this issue of where we are fiscally in this country transcends party lines. It doesn't matter if you're Republican or Democrat. I think Republicans and Democrats agree that this president has not followed through on his promises. ... I think Republicans conservatives, they agree with this message. I think that's where they're going to throw Barack Obama out.
Q. As RNC chairman, what's your biggest issue right now? What keeps you up at night?
A. I have to rebuild trust and credibility within our party with major donors and make sure they understand the Republican National Committee is back in business.
Money's a big part of my daily routine as chairman of the party. I need to make sure we're operating as a party that's true to our principles as a party.