Friday, July 23, 2004

Updated July 23, 2004, 1:30 pm

Who is really to blame for the Republican U. S. Senate candidate debacle in Illinois?

In a longish piece, especially for something related to the Republican Party (more than two pages), Rich Miller of Capitolfax gives what sounds to be the State GOP Chairman Judy Baar Topinka defense (without of course citing to Topinka). A defense, that is, to the sniping at Judy by some (e.g., Jack Roeser) who think the State Treasurer is responsible for the Republican Senate candidate debacle. The Rich Miller piece also serves as a defense to the State GOP Central Committee action or inaction. Although some of the Central Committee differ from Topinka philosophically, they are now joined at the hip with her in this whole peculiar Jack Ryan replacement procedure they are going through.

Rich Miller, Chicago Tribune Columnist and Blogger Eric Zorn [and others] have criticized Jack Ryan for his “dumb” or not credible statements about why he has not filed his formal withdrawal. Boy, that is a news flash, a pol makes some disingenuous statements that he and everyone else knows are equivalent to euphemisms. Jack Ryan wants to have some leverage over the party’s replacement choice. Senator George Allen [head of the Republican Senate Campaign Committee] would like Jack, and indirectly Senator Allen, to have some leverage over the replacement choice. Jim Oberweis, who came in second in the Republic Primary, thinks Jack should have some leverage over the replacement choice. So does Conservative Republican party leader and former 10 year state senator Pat O’Malley. So do many others. After all, they say, Jack, by doing this, is representing the 35% of the voters who elected Jack Ryan to be the Republican Senate candidate. Also, Jack and his supporters might want the option not to withdraw if the State GOP leadership makes a really bad choice.

Contrast the reaction of the press, Rich Miller, et al to a statement that really is a dumb statement.

“IL GOP State Central Committeeman Bobbie Peterson (R-11) took her complaint to the national level by calling Jack Ryan "an obstructionist" for not filing his withdrawal form in the U.S. Senate race. Washington Times reporter Steve Miller, who was in Chicago over the weekend talking with Republicans, hit a sore spot with Peterson. She represents Will County and surrounding areas as state central committeeman. Peterson and 18 others will have a part in selecting who ultimately fills the vacancy being left by the withdrawal of Ryan. "Now he's being an obstructionist," Peterson told Miller about [Jack] Ryan. "We could have a replacement for him tomorrow if he would sign those papers. We have a minimum of 12 people ready to be interviewed for this ballot spot." As reported by the Illinois Leader (,July 22, 2004) and as circulated (quite helpfully in his daily collection of key political articles) by Milton Township Republican Precinct 9 Committeeman Dave Diersen.

What a bizarre statement. I am supposed to believe that Committeeman Peterson has one candidate among her twelve who can self fund, who can raise funds at the rate of about 100K per day, who has a clear, cogent message that connects with the Republican Party base and swing voters, who has name recognition across the state, who is likeable to the voters (this last characteristic is another trait that I have added to my revised specs for the Senate candidate position, See blog entry, immediately below, revised today). And, if Peterson and her State Central Committee colleagues don’t have one candidate who meets the requisite specs to be a credible senate candidate, I am supposed to believe that is because Jack Ryan has not filed his withdrawal form? I don’t think so. Have you seen anyone in the mainstream media (including Rich) rip Peterson for making this inane statement? I don’t think so.

So, the Rich Miller Capitolfax piece tells us that a “ Top Republican Party official,” thinks that a variety of people, e.g., Senator Dillard, Senator Rauschenberger, Coach Ditka and Al Salvi are all using the press to get their 15 minutes of fame (of course, I think Da Coach already had his, so I guess the top Republican Party official would say that the “self-promoters,” used Ditka to use the Press, or whatever). Therefore, it is argued that if the so-called Republican senate candidate search process looks stupid, it is not the GOP State Central Committee’s fault, it is the fault of the Press and the people who are using the press.

Further, Rich concludes, that the real fault for the Republican Senate candidate mess is attributable to--who do you think?—Why, Jack Ryan, of course. Sure, Rich concedes that the Republican Party is having trouble finding a candidate, and he concedes that there are one or two reasons other than Jack why that might be the case, but really, boys and girls, the wisdom according to Rich Miller and his friendly “Top Republican Party official,” is- blame it all on Jack.

Now, of course, Jack Ryan and his campaign made significant mistakes in how they handled the whole set of issues relating to sealed records, disclosure, etc. So what, good candidates and their campaigns often make major league mistakes and survive them. Former President Bill Clinton comes to mind, for one. Yes, I concede that this might have been a case where the problems, especially in light of the candidate’s lacking the stomach for a fight, were not survivable. But, we will never know. Because the Illinois GOP Triad of Topinka, Kjellander and Edgar- which is what the press means by the state GOP leadership-- turned on Jack when he slipped and the rest, Dillard, et al followed suit, like lemmings over the cliff.

Put aside whether the Triad did this for self preservation, philosophy or other reasons. The really stupid thing, on the Triad’s part, was to discard Jack before they had any reason to believe that they had a better candidate on the bench to replace Jack- even compared to Jack’s sex clubs, misleading statements, etc..

Now, maybe Topinka will pull a great candidate out of her hat—perhaps Jim Thompson, with perhaps the wealth to self-fund, the state-wide name recognition still there perhaps, the ability to overcome ideological and other differences with the Republican Party base, etc. Who knows, she might do it. But, right now, it is not looking so good for the Republicans in Illinois. And, yes, Rich Miller, Jack Ryan gets a good chunk of the blame. But, plenty more of the blame goes to Chairman Topinka to share in, with her support staff of Kjellander and Edgar. After all the Triad is supposed to consist of political professionals. These are supposed to be people who you would think would know that you don’t send your starter to the bench without looking to make sure the bullpen isn’t empty. Think again.

Jeff Berkowitz, host and producer of Public Affairs, can be reached at