Heading to Cleveland, Illinois GOP delegates not all unified
Set to arrive in Cleveland on Sunday is a collection of Illinois delegates that rode an anti-establishment political wave fueled by Donald Trump to this week's Republican National Convention, the biggest establishment event the party holds.
Many of the delegates elected in Illinois' March primary to represent Trump beat out some of the state's biggest names in politics to get here, winning more votes than former candidates for governor, state lawmakers and other GOP notables who had hoped for a ticket to the convention on behalf of fizzled primary candidates like Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio.
About three dozen elected Trump delegates will share a block of hotel rooms, daily Illinois delegation events, and a section of the convention floor at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland with a dozen appointed delegates -- some of whom backed other candidates in the primary -- and a handful more elected for Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.
Trump delegate Bob Bednar of Mundelein, a 2014 primary candidate for Illinois House, said there's likely to be tension in the delegation because some members have actively and loudly pushed back against the primary winner.
"I think there's going to be tension," Bednar said. "And I think there's going to be conflict."
Some Illinois Trump delegates, for example, don't think the state party is doing enough to help and promote the nominee.
Ideological divisions showed themselves at the state convention in Peoria earlier this year, when an attempt to change the party's platform regarding same-sex marriage was soundly defeated.
Illinois Republican Party Chairman Tim Schneider of Bartlett says he's working to promote unity.
The public rebukes of Trump by, in particular, former state party chairman Pat Brady of St. Charles have irked delegates like Bednar who think Brady has been working against the will of Republican primary voters. Since before the primary, Schneider has said the party would back Trump if he won Illinois. Now, as the GOP's premier event is about to begin, Schneider says he hopes some of the Trump delegates who are first-timers to a convention and politics will help bolster a state party that gained serious momentum last election with Gov. Bruce Rauner's victory.
"We can add them to our ranks," he said.
Schneider wants the convention to be a "launchpad" toward a big effort to re-elect Republican U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk of Highland Park and gain seats in the Illinois General Assembly in a state that has trended toward Democrats in presidential years.
The conventions in recent years have become glossy, made-for-TV coronations of a party's nominee, and despite divisions, the Cleveland event could end up being much like that again, allowing first-time Trump delegates to bask in their candidate's hard-won primary victory.
In Illinois, Trump beat Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in March by about eight points, with both of them leaving Rubio and Kasich far behind.
That meant Trump picked up 39 elected delegates from the state, including most from the suburbs, except for a few pickups by Kasich in the suburbs and Chicago.
Trump's statewide victory means Illinois' 12 statewide delegates were awarded to him, too.
Trump's delegates are largely unknown to most Illinois voters and the convention could give them a stage and a voice, if they want it. Not all are going, though.
One of the most vocal Trump delegates in a group that hasn't talked much to reporters is Anthony Anderson, who won a spot from the west and south suburban 11th Congressional District.
He said late last week he's decided not to go, upset by what he perceives to be a lack of focus on Trump by party stalwarts in Illinois.
"They're doing everything they can to basically undermine the whole process," Anderson said.
Like Bednar, Anderson's ire largely focused on Brady, a Kasich delegate involved in the ultimately doomed effort to try to remove Trump at the convention.
But not all the Trump delegates are expecting conflict.
Mark Fratella of Elmhurst says he's volunteered for most Republican presidential candidates going back to the 1996 race that pitted Sen. Bob Dole against presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton's husband.
He said he was drawn to Trump's views on immigration in the primary.
Fratella thinks his party's distaste for Clinton will iron out differences among some candidates.
Trump is set to be officially nominated later this week ahead of his planned acceptance Thursday.
"I think we'll all have a common goal of defeating Hillary in November," Fratella said.