As Republican hopefuls debate, their Illinois backers organize

  • As Republicans prepare for another debate, Illinois backers are organizing.

    As Republicans prepare for another debate, Illinois backers are organizing. Associated Press File Photo

Updated 9/15/2015 6:04 PM

As the Republican candidates for president elbow for attention on the CNN stage Wednesday night, top members of the Illinois GOP have started choosing their favorites and putting together organizations here that could be critical once the March 15 state primary comes along.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio both had fundraisers in the area last week, and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has started to attract some big names, too.


State Sen. Jim Oberweis of Sugar Grove, Rep. Tom Morrison of Palatine and Rep. Keith Wheeler of Oswego have emerged as top Walker backers.

Former House Republican Leader Tom Cross of Oswego says he's backing former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, as is former Gov. Jim Edgar and Regional Transportation Authority Chairman Kirk Dillard.

State Sen. Mike Connelly of Lisle says he's behind Rubio, as are Reps. Barbara Wheeler of Crystal Lake and John Anthony of Plainfield.

State Rep. Ed Sullivan of Mundelein is with Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

They agree, though, that Wednesday's debate headliner and poll front-runner Donald Trump doesn't have a visible presence in Illinois.

"To be honest with you, I think he's going to be a fad that will eventually fade," Oberweis said.

Illinois Republicans say they're trying to get their organizations ready if that happens. Oberweis said Walker's Naperville stop was a "significant fundraiser" for a candidate he says is attractive for his work in Wisconsin and his battles with public employee unions.

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Cross says those fundraisers can be key for a long campaign, pointing to former Texas Gov. Rick Perry's exit last week because he ran out of money.

"You've got to be able to stay in the game," Cross said.

He says he's backing Bush because of his stable tenure as Florida governor, someone who can last through a grind of a campaign and emerge from a Trump decline if it happens.

"Trump is the new product that everyone wants to look at and poke and prod," Cross said. "And that's normal."

And Connelly compared Rubio to Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout, suggesting the candidate has a number of different skills.

"He's from the aspirational wing of the Republican party," he said. "It's a more positive approach to politics and governing."


Wednesday's debate is likely to draw a lot of attention even though the real first presidential primary contest is months away, in January in Iowa. Connelly said Rubio supporters have offered to go to the Hawkeye State to help if needed.

Along with Bush, Rubio, Trump and Walker, other candidates set to debate are Ben Carson, Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina, Lindsey Graham, Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal, John Kasich, Rand Paul, George Pataki and Rick Santorum.

Locally, WIND 560-AM will carry audio of the debate, with coverage starting at 5 p.m.

Candidates who are seeking to get their delegates on Illinois' March 15 ballot must file nominating petitions by the end of November, giving Republicans a little more time before the pressure to organize truly heats up.

"Elections are not won 10 months out," Connelly said.

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