Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Buzzzzz: The National Republican Party, the Ryan files and the Senate Primary.

All right, boys and girls, it is election eve. Time to reflect on the State of the Republican Party, in Illinois, that is. Although it comes as a surprise to some establishment Rs, the National Republican operatives in D.C. have not lost interest completely in Illinois, especially as to the chance of keeping the junior U. S. Senate seat Republican. While there are at least five open southern senate seats that have priority over Illinois, Jack Ryan caught the eye of the National Republican operatives. The organization, money, base and message came together nicely for Jack and he appeared to be someone who might give the President a boost and perhaps a shot in November. Jack, unlike say, Jim Oberweis, was seen as someone with a shot at winning back Reagan Democrats and Independents, and therefore of possible value to the President’s re-election effort.

Of course, there was some concern as to whether Jack Ryan would be “responsive,” to the needs of the establishment—in the same sense that Cong. LaHood (R- Peoria) and Speaker Hastert would see Andy McKenna as “responsive.” See blog entry, below. Nevertheless, Jack is no Senator Peter Fitzgerald, which to “base,” Republicans is both a plus and a minus. Senator Fitzgerald was not viewed as an unmixed blessing by the party faithful.

State Sen. Steve Rauschenberger, because of his inability to self-fund or raise money, was not given much serious thought by the National Rs, notwithstanding his impressive understanding of policy issues and his ability to articulate that understanding. The President will have a lot of money but, like most Presidents, he doesn’t like to share his toys. The Senate Campaign Committee is not interested in spending time with long shots, let alone putting their hard earned cash behind them. After all, these are Republicans, and some have actually learned the value of a dollar.

Andy McKenna, Jr. has the appropriate friends and contacts among the business and establishment community, especially those long-standing relationships that come through his father, to be a possible fit with the National Rs. And, of course, he is decent, reliable and very respectable. However, that sounds more like an old bank than a new politician and this is not 1998, with the Illinois Republican Party facing a damaged Democratic Senate opponent. In Obama or Hynes, you have—and Rs shouldn’t kid themselves here, you have a very formidable opponent, and most of the other indicators are shouting, Advantage D. So, to win a general election in Illinois, the Republican candidate is going to have to have a lot of sizzle, aka charisma. That, Andy lacks. You can take the boy out of Indiana, but it is hard to take the Indiana out of the boy. I mean, look at some of the contributions of Indiana to the Republican Party—Lugar and Quayle (both much smarter than people know). And even on the Democratic side, a wonderful DLC guy, Evan Bayh—but, collectively, those 3, or 4, if you include Andy, don’t have enough charisma to fill an eye
dropper. Jack Ryan, on the other hand, has it in buckets.

In short, the National Party was just starting to get comfortable with a Jack Ryan candidacy. After all, these guys are mostly conservative, so it takes a while for them to get used to a new pair of socks, let alone upstarts like Jack, who actually seem to care about the poorest of the poor. That is not a group that many Rs count among their strongest constituencies or even part of the re-alignment that is so trendy for Rs to discuss these days.

So, when General Borling, perhaps unintentionally and unwittingly (as he claims), or perhaps as part of a grand plot (as others accuse), unleashed the dogs of war [in the form of 2nd Lieutenant, First Assistant and Borling Campaign Manager Rod McCullough, a former John Cox guy from the 2000 10th Cong. District race]—about 10 days ago in the first sneak attack and then last Thursday in the second barrage, the D.C. operative calls starting coming into Chicago, IL. These were from people who generally don’t call to find out how the Cubs are looking in spring training.

The callers seemed to be looking for information as to how the “locals” thought the Jack Ryan “sealed file,” issue would play out and, at the same time, trying to “damp the controversy down,” a bit. As to the latter, they wanted to make sure that the Jack Ryan candidacy did not implode, if there was nothing to the rumor and innuendo. On the other hand, if there were underlying facts that might be difficult to deal with —well, that defense the National Rs wouldn’t take on.

When the stuff hit the fan last Thursday night, some of the Cook County establishment were across the border, so to speak, at the DuPage County Lincoln Day Dinner listening, coincidentally enough, to Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie, who was subbing for former Bush Senior Adviser and trusted counselor, Karen Hughes. All the Republican glitterati from DuPage, such as they are, including such noteables as Pistol Packing former State Senate President Pate Philip and Quick Draw former AG candidate Joe Birkett were working the crowd, or being worked, as the case may be. Gillespie, who likes to attack Democrats for planning what he calls "the dirtiest campaign in modern presidential politics," was there to rally the troops, energize the base and open some wallets. And, he did okay, on all fronts.

The Rod McCullough statement and news reports of same, which broke the afternoon of the DuPage dinner, were pretty much ignored by those at the Dinner. Perhaps these folks had been on their way to the dinner and missed the news reports. The Borling/Jack flap almost ignited when Borling tried to break through Jack Ryan’s wall of aides and talk to Jack. Borling, who was in the military for 37 years and a POW for more than 6 years at the Hanoi Hilton and who claims he can do more push-ups than his younger competitors, literally went stomach to stomach with a very large Ryan aide—and the General backed away from the brink of combat, apparently deciding discretion was the better part of valor. Stomach to Stomach, how very, very Un-Republican.

When I caught up with Oberweis and McKenna after the DuPage dinner and asked them what they thought of that afternoon’s revelations, they said they had not heard the news directly and weren’t going to comment on “those rumors.” Indeed, that was essentially the response of Illinois Republican Party Chairman Judy Baar Topinka when we caught up with her on her way out of the Dinner. She referred to these items as simply smears and rumors that didn’t warrant any discussion. On the other hand, Oberweis had a “private chat,” or two with the General that evening.

How odd then that JBT was apparently receptive, shortly thereafter, to the suggestion that a triad, or is it triumvirate, of JBT, party co-chair and JBT underling Mike McGlynn and insider, confidant of Blago, RNC Rep. from Illinos and $809,000 bond deal gorilla Bob Kjellander would somehow determine the fate of Jack, either before the election or after he was elected, if the sealed file matter continued to hound Jack. Now, Tom Roeser said on his show, “Political Shoot-out,” on Sunday night that McGlynn is a good guy. Perhaps he is, but he is also a part of the Notre Dame mafia endorsing Andy McKenna, Jr. And, McKenna, Paul Caprio aside, has not turned on the conservative base. Also, Roeser is the guy who said recently that Jack Ryan can’t take a punch. Perhaps, but at some point very soon, they won’t just be punching Jack. Assuming Jack wins the primary, things would have to get a lot tougher and bleaker than they are now for Jack Ryan, and friends, to turn over the keys to the nomination to that crowd—who many in the Republican base view as almost the political equivalent of the Axis of Evil.

Well, with about 14 hours until the polls close, as I have been saying since the end of last May, this primary race is still Jack Ryan’s to lose. Rauschenberger could catch him, but I wouldn’t bet on it. It is possible, but the State Senator would need an impressive ground and air [phone bank] game from his state legislator network, the likes of which the Repubican Party in Illinois has not seen before. Oberweis? Not so much. The trouble that Oberweis has is that if he is to win, he has to peel votes off of Jack, and those votes, if peeling, find Rauschenberger the preferred alternative. Oberweis is vanilla, and the Jack votes prefer strawberry, if Jack's neopolitan won't do.

Can Jack win in the General? That question is for another day. But one clear winner in this election season is not even on the ballot. That person wins if Jack Ryan wins in the Primary. That person wins if Rauschenberger wins in the Primary. McKenna or Oberweis, then not so much. And, perhaps that person wins even if the Republicans lose in the General. Who is that masked person? We’ll talk about that, perhaps, after the Primary.

You can contact JEFF BERKOWITZ at 312-214-6122 or at JBCG@aol.com