Suburban GOP voice in Washington tamed

Published1/21/2009 3:28 PM

U.S. Reps. Mark Kirk and Peter Roskam serve as the voice of Chicago suburban Republicans in Washington, D.C. And under President Barack Obama it seems that voice may be a tad tame.

"My constituents expect me to work with the president and where we agree we would team up very strongly," says Kirk, whose 10th District includes parts of Lake and northwest Cook counties.


Roskam, a Highland Park Republican who represents the 6th District centered on DuPage County, says the same.

"I do think my district has the expectation that I work with the president," says Roskam, who has been a rising star among House Republicans.

The fact is Kirk and Roskam disagree with Obama on a lot. They have differing tax plans and opposing proposals for health care reform, and Roskam's views on social issues, such as stem cell research and abortion, are far different from those of Obama.

Yet their conciliatory attitude toward Obama can be traced to the hometown president's considerable popularity in the suburbs, forcing even the most staunch Republicans to try to find ways to appear like Obama's pal.

Even the head of the Illinois Republican Party is quick to embrace Obama after months of calling into question his record representing his home state.

"We Republicans join with the rest of the country in being supportive of the new president," said party Chairman Andy McKenna.

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To see why the Illinois GOP is embracing Obama one need only look to the ballot box.

In DuPage County, generally considered the heart of suburban GOP territory, Obama pulled 55 percent of the vote. In Lake County, he received nearly 60 percent.

When all the Chicago suburbs are factored in, Obama took 61 percent, or about 1.3 million votes. Statewide Obama won with 62 percent, or 3.5 million votes.

To be sure, however, suburban Republicans say their initial support doesn't mean they will back every proposal the new president pushes.

"That is not to say you vote for everything the administration puts forward or check your common sense at the door," says Roskam, who often opposed Obama's proposals when both where state senators in Springfield.

Roskam, who is entering his second 2-year term, recently was selected to sit on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee and he is helping craft the GOP response to Obama's economic stimulus plan.

Regardless, it seems Illinois Republicans will at least in the short term not be quick to highlight differences with Obama or magnify every perceived presidential misstep for partisan gain.

"There is a good faith expectation by voters that we give him the benefit of the doubt," Roskam said.

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