Monday, July 12, 2004

Dated July 12, 2004 at 12:30 am

The mess that has come to be known as the State GOP, led by Big Mama.

The pressure is on Big Mama, as she has referred to herself in the past. Big Mama, when she took over the Illinois GOP reins, referred to the men as making a mess of things, and she came in with her mop and pail to clean it up.

Big Mama, or Judy Baar Topinka as she is more commonly known, is now looking at a mess that some say is of her own making. By the target she set, July 15, she has only three days to come up with a U. S. Senate Candidate for the Illinois Republican Party. So what, you say, she did not cause the problem- Jack Ryan did. Perhaps and Perhaps not.

Let’s review the players:

First, the media are fond of referring to the Illinois GOP leaders as if there were a bunch of people in that category. In fact, there are only three. The State GOP consists essentially of Judy Baar, former Governor Jim Edgar and RNC member, lobbyist and Karl Rove buddy, Bob Kjellander. As you may have heard from the recent health care industry news, it ain’t an Illinois deal- if the ubiquitous Kjellander does not have his fingers in it. Sure, there is Speaker Dennis Hastert, with all of the influence that goes with being third in line to be POTUS, or President. But Hastert is involved in real government, you know-- things like War and Peace, the Economy, jobs, trade, etc., so he leaves the silliness, backstabbing and mundane deal making, in large part, to the Triad, unless, of course, the appointment of the U. S. Attorney is the issue.

And, Edgar is really the elder Statesman, called in only to spread some holy water on things or place his thumbs down, as the case may be. Of course, there is the state central committee, but those folks are the equivalent of state precinct captains, looking to others for guidance. And, there are legislative minority leaders Cross and Watson, but no real power there. So, at the end of the day, it is Judy and Bob. And, Bob is still out there cutting deals, so really it comes down to Judy.

One view is that when Judy and the two other components of the State GOP Triad, party elder Jim Edgar and RNC member and Karl Rove buddy, Bob Kjellander, saw Jack in a pickle, they each backed away, engaging in a bit of self preservation. Another view is that the three saw this as an opportunity to pick their own candidate, somebody less independent than Jack, somebody who knows how and when to play by the rules of the Illinois GOP, somebody not at all like Senator Peter Fitzgerald, who always went his own way and did such strange things as “insisting,” that the U. S. Attorneys in Illinois be “truly independent,” especially from the Combine, and in the case of the Northern District (Patrick Fitzgerald) and Central District (Jan Miller) actually came from out of state [Now, that was really independent]. Also, to the extent ideology matters, this offered the Triad a chance to bypass the Illinois primary and the Republican base, and install a “moderate.” (Yes, Kjellander says he is pro-life, but somehow I don’t think that would really be an issue with him).

In any case, the oversight of the State Central Committee selection process and candidate recruitment fell, in large part, to the dynamic duo, Judy and Bob. And, in large part, that comes down to Judy. Bob has deals and other things in the press to occupy himself with.

Now, candidate recruitment in this market is not easy, at least for those who might be viewed as quality candidates. A few obstacles to running a credible campaign, in the three months, or so, that remain.

1. Presidential years are extremely difficult for Republicans in Illinois: turnout in what has become a strong Democratic state is even higher for the Ds than in the gubernatorial years. And, this is more so for the Ds than the Rs.

2. The Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee is not happy with the Triad and Speaker Hastert, as they think the Triad created the problem by abandoning Jack Ryan early, with no basis, and contrary to the Senatorial Committee’s advice. So, they are in no mood to bail out the Triad.

3. Moreover, Illinois was a bad investment to begin with for the Senatorial Campaign Committee. So, the above just made it much worse.

4. Barack Obama is a remarkably gifted candidate. Articulate, Intelligent, charming, personable, loved by the media and always handles himself well. Yes, Republicans argue he is vulnerable on his philosophy and voting record. But, in light of the above, nobody may ever get to those items.

5. Obama raised 4 million in the last quarter and it is only getting better for him. Business PACs already smell a winner, so they are lining up with Barack, removing major financial opportunities from even a good R candidate, who, at the moment, is not there.

In my June 30 blog entry, below, I identified the 10 most likely candidates. Since that time, 6 of the 10 have said thanks, but no thanks. Those include Rauschenberger, McKenna, McCracken, Gidwitz, Jayne Thompson and Patrick Fitzgerald. Of the remaining four, three have also said no, but I think the door was left a little open: Senator Peter Fitzgerald, Jim Thompson and Bob Schillerstrom.
Of course, the Triad would never want Peter. I just included him in case the Triad folded its tent.

So, of my top 10, the Triad, or I mean, Judy, is left with Jim Thompson, Bob Schillerstrom and the one guy in my top 10 who still wants it, Jim Oberweis.

Thompson and Schillerstrom really have said no, so they would take a lot of persuading. Thus, Judy is left with Jim Oberweis, who would make nobody happy, except for maybe the 25% of the Republicans who voted for him in the primary, giving him a second place primary finish. Given the animosity of the press and others engendered by Oberweis’ immigration views, the primary votes may be more of a ceiling than a floor.

Worse, the President would be very unhappy with Jim Oberweis. Oberweis points out that he differs with the President on only 5% of the issues. Unfortunately, it is a pretty important 5%, immigration and the Hispanic base that the President is courting nationally.

So, Judy [Bob, Edgar and Hastert have washed their hands of this] is left with the following: Norm Hill, General Borling, Cherinjeev Kathuria, Jonathan Wright, Jim Nalepa, Mike Ditka, Jim Durkin and yes, Dr. Andrea Grubb Barthwell.

Borling, Kathuria, Hill and Wright? I don’t think so. Collectively, about 4% in the Republican Primary. Why would they put their names in the ring again? I don’t know, I don’t care and I doubt Judy does, either.

Nalepa? Ran against Lipinski 10 years ago and my operatives tell me he suspected Judy helped the other side. Whatever, he would be pretty unlikely, even if Judy is dumped.

Ditka? I don’t think so. Try vetting Ditka. And, the guy is no Terminator. Come on folks, this is the U. S. Senate, not a fraternity party.

Jim Durkin? Nice, liked by the edit Boards, competent former state legislator. He has no more money than he had in 02; now has a stronger opponent and he is starting way later. I don’t think so.

Dr. Barthwell: We know little more than that she has worked for two years (until a few days ago) as a high level Deputy Director in the Bush war on drugs; she is African American; pro-choice but against partial birth abortions; probably can’t self fund and she has given money to Democrats. Sounds to be a little short on the pre-requisites for the job.

So, with three days left, Big Mama has limited options, in order of likely eventual outcome:

1. Go with an embarrassing candidate and blame it all on Jack.

2. Beg Jim Thompson to bail her out

3. Promise Schillerstrom something she can’t deliver on.

4. Ask Kjellander, Jim and the Speaker to join her in telling Jack Ryan that perhaps they all were too hasty and they would like to have him back and work together. Also, have the Triad, thru Bob, use Rove to go back to the Senatorial Campaign Committee and get something concrete to offer Jack. The buzz is putting it at 25% to 35% that Jack will reverse his withdrawal

5. Resign her post and bring back Gary MacDougal. Gary could bring back Jack and life would be less awkward for all. Who knows, they might even let Judy run for Treasurer again.

6. Tick Tock, Tick Tock, three more days.

Jeff Berkowitz, Host and Producer of “Public Affairs,” can be reached at