Even before the final vote counts were in, Republicans were turning their eyes toward 2014, Illinois GOP Chairman Pat Brady said.
Party leaders see Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn's low approval ratings -- and the state's dismal finances -- as a chance for the GOP to take the governor's mansion for the first time in a decade.
But losses up and down the ticket Tuesday, and a previously bungled campaign by the Republican Party in its 2010 bid for governor, make it apparent some new strategies need to be in store, some party members and analysts warn.
As Republican candidates start lining up for the job, so do the issues for the party: Appealing to minority voters, bridging regional differences, and finding the right place on the political spectrum.
"Republicans have a real shot at winning the governorship," said David Yepsen, director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University. "The danger for Republicans in this state will be that in order to win nominations, Republican candidates will run so far to the right on social issues and immigration that they'll turn off voters in the general election."
Republican state Sen. Kirk Dillard of Hinsdale, who confirmed he'll be making a bid for governor, said the lesson from Tuesday is clear. Republicans need someone who will not only find support among Illinois' diverse people, but also its diverse regions, said Dillard, who lost the 2010 GOP primary for governor.
"If the Republicans want to win the governorship in 2014, they must run a suburbanite with strong downstate roots that can run well in Chicago," he said, as well as get support from Latino and African-American voters.
Dillard can expect to face stiff challenges from downstate, where a handful of candidates are revving their campaign engines.
Aaron Schock of Peoria is an up-and-comer in the state Republican Party who made his first real noise in state politics by upsetting a longtime Democratic incumbent for the Illinois House. Many in the party see him as a fresh face who doesn't have the political baggage of a statewide defeat, as Dillard does. But Schock also doesn't have the government experience -- or the experience of a statewide bid -- of some other candidates.
Dan Rutherford of Chenoa bounced back from a statewide defeat in 2006 to win a bid for Illinois treasurer in 2010. He's kept his profile high via the office, has shown skills in raising money and led Mitt Romney's Illinois campaign in 2008 and 2012.
The former longtime state lawmaker can try to draw on supporters from 20 years in Illinois politics. Rutherford has not formally announced a bid but is rumored to be assembling an exploratory committee.
Any GOP candidate will feel that Gov. Pat Quinn -- if he wins a possible Democratic primary challenge -- is vulnerable. But Tuesday's big Democratic sweep might give them pause.
Republicans, after all, thought Quinn was vulnerable in 2010, too. That year, he defeated Republican state Sen. Bill Brady of Bloomington, who's also expected to try again this year.
The more conservative Brady defeated Dillard in the 2010 primary by just 193 votes statewide, leading some in the party to question whether a more moderate candidate could have taken down Quinn. It's hard to predict whether GOP primary voters will back a conservative or more moderate candidate to carry their mantle in 2014, but the decision could be the difference between a win and a loss, said state Sen. Dan Kotowski of Park Ridge, a moderate Democrat who won re-election this week in a new, more conservative district.
"Anybody who's running for office needs to understand what people are saying right now," Kotowski said.
"It's not just about the political party. Most of our country is in the middle. Most of the people in the suburbs are in the middle. They're looking for someone who has a moderate approach, from reproductive health measures to making sure that one person is not necessarily sharing the (financial) burden more than anybody else."