Local GOP slow to back presidential choices
SPRINGFIELD -- As the Republican primary race for president begins to pick up steam, top GOP leaders in the suburbs largely are delaying picking who to get behind.
It's a process that's usually well under way by now, with local officials already wearing buttons and stumping for their favorite national figures.
But not this year.
"I have definitely not," said state Rep. Mike Fortner of West Chicago, echoing comments from other legislative and congressional representatives from the suburbs.
One reason for their hesitation so far: The national candidates themselves don't even know exactly who is running yet.
In fact, some Illinois Republicans recently expressed dismay that Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty had left the race so early. New York Gov. George Pataki also flirted for a while with the idea of running, but announced Friday he will not be a candidate.
Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin may yet enter the fray and shake things up.
"I'm not convinced this field is closed yet," said U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh, a McHenry Republican. "I'm probably at the point where I don't have a favorite yet."
Who local officials back in the primary can matter, as Democrats showed with Barack Obama in 2008. While Obama's win in his home state of Illinois was all but assured, top Illinois Democrats were important to his early victory in Iowa, traveling there to help work the caucuses alongside Iowans.
The Republican side will be different for 2012, though, as it's unlikely one candidate will emerge a consensus Illinois favorite.
"We're not real good at consensus-building as a party," said state Sen. Matt Murphy.
That worries people like Randy Ramey, a Republican state lawmaker from Carol Stream and also leader of the DuPage County GOP. If Republicans from the suburbs disagree -- which many might -- their passions for one candidate or another might create divisions that are hard to mend.
Ramey says he emphasizes that when talking to groups of Republicans: He knows they'll all support different people for president in the March 2012 Illinois primary. What he doesn't want is for that split to continue once a nominee is chosen.
"We don't come together after the election," Ramey said. "That has to stop."
At the Illinois State Fair recently, several top Republicans name-checked Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann.
State Sen. Kirk Dillard went as far to say he was leaning heavily toward Perry, but he stopped there.
Typically, Dillard said, he and others would have decided by now and would be passing out signs and buttons and lending support.
Four years ago in August, Murphy was backing former Tennessee senator and "Law & Order" star Fred Thompson's eventually doomed campaign when it was in its early, hopeful stages.
Fortner, on the other hand, was backing Arizona Sen. John McCain at a time when his campaign appeared to be going nowhere. As a result, Fortner ended up as a McCain delegate at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn.
"I didn't think anything would come of it," he said.
As for what they're looking for in a candidate, U.S. Rep. Randy Hultgren of Winfield was among the many Republicans who not only wants to pick someone based on beliefs, but also on the potential for beating Obama in the general election -- though Walsh contends Obama is vulnerable enough that "we don't need to find the next Ronald Reagan."
Which of the Republican candidates stands the best chance against Obama is likely to be hotly debated as Illinois Republicans start to make their decisions.
And while there wasn't much talk yet about the March primary election at the Illinois State Fair political rallies in Springfield, there was talk from both Democrats and Republicans about getting behind their candidates in November.
"Elections matter," House Republican Leader Tom Cross said at a rally. "And elections have consequences."