Thursday, November 18, 2004

Updated November 18, 2004 at 3:25 pm

A virtual three way debate: Cong. Ray LaHood v. Corinne Wood v. Jeff Berkowitz

Corinne Wood fires back at Cong. Ray LaHood: Moderate Republicans win general elections in Illinois, the former Lt. Governor- under George Ryan- argues.

Berkowitz responds to the Corinne Wood arguments.
To: Public Affairs
From: Corinne Wood

In response to Cong. Ray LaHood’s comments that moderates can’t win Republican primaries [Ed. Note: Actually, Cong. LaHood said it would be “difficult,” for moderates to win; See Nov. 11, 12:50 pm blog entry, below] , hasn't he forgotten about Governor Jim Thompson (14 years as Governor), Governor Jim Edgar (8 years as Governor), Judy Baar Topinka (8 years as Treasurer), Corinne Wood (4 years as Lt. Gov.) and many others? In contrast, conservatives who do win primaries have a dismal record at winning in the general election -- leaving us without Republican representation-Al Salvi, Bob Churchill, Jim Ryan, Jim Tobin, Judy Koehler and, of course, Alan Keyes! The difference? "Moderates" actually win elections!

When are we Republicans going to stop being divisive and start recognizing that standing together we can win as Republicans? How many failed election attempts do we need? Based on Cong. LaHood's comments, I guess we haven't learned yet.

Corinne Wood
Berkowitz responds:

Perhaps, but there are a few problems with the above analysis of former Lt. Gov. Wood, elegant as it appears at first blush. Many of the examples are quite dated. Thompson last won an election in 1986 and Edgar in 1994, a decade ago. Koehler’s 31 point loss takes us back to 1986 and the reference to Churchill [losing the primary for SOS to Salvi?] in this context-- I just don’t get. As to Topinka, Treasurer doesn’t count. That is not really a position for which winning pivots on social conservative or even economic conservative positions. It is, apparently, more a matter of historical deals, conflicts, backstabbing and various political antics than it is taking and articulating positions on substantive issues.

Al Salvi’s ’96 U. S. Senate loss in the general election is a little more relevant, at least as to time period—but his loss seemed to reflect ineptness more than ideology. Jim Tobin, a Libertarian candidate who had trouble getting on the ballot, is another example I don’t get, in this context.

Jim Ryan’s 2002 gubernatorial loss is relevant in time but again ideology seemed to have little to do with that, or even with Jim Ryan. A very decent guy- is Jim- but those are four of the most damning words you can mutter in politics—Kind of like when a high school kid describes a potential date for his or her friend as having a lot of personality.

In short, Jim Ryan lost his gubernatorial bid, and not by that much, because he was a terrible campaigner who seemed to hate every minute of campaigning and he had George Ryan’s scandal ridden past sitting on his shoulder every minute of the campaign. Was he a social conservative on gay rights, guns, education? If he was, it was hard to detect, especially by the average voter. Yes, he was generally Pro-Life, but by saying he would not apologize for being pro-Life, most pro-lifers thought he sounded as if he was. His handing of his Office’s investigation of the Secretary of State scandals and the constant pounding by O’Malley re same in the primary did not help Jim much, either. In short, Jim Ryan’s loss had very little to do with whether he was or was not a conservative.

And, finally, Wood refers to Alan Keyes. Yes, Keyes was a disaster. But, coming from out of state, having the State GOP Party elders and so-called leaders announce on Day 1 that he was not welcome, with the Chicago Tribune also immediately saying the equivalent of “Go back home,” and, of course, not being a true economic conservative on such key issues as free trade and agriculture, Keyes had, shall we say, a few problems unrelated to those that a “normal conservative,” candidate might have.

That, of course, is before we get to the fact that Keyes was, at best, an historically inconsistent Republican, terribly ill-suited for politics, and completely lacking in grace or charm. Indeed, as I have argued elsewhere, Keyes is the ideal, but completely disingenuous, example for someone like Chairman Topinka to refer to as demonstrating that conservatives cannot win the general election in Illinois.

So, in short, while Corinne Wood may have a point that Republicans need to stand together to win, her examples that purport to demonstrate that Republican moderates currently can win general elections and that Republican conservatives cannot win general elections do not withstand critical scrutiny.

Moreover, a major problem that Corinne does not deal with is that Edgar or Thompson probably could not get out of the Republican Primary these days. And, a conservative who did win a tough primary contest against a moderate in recent times (1998)-- overcoming the establishment support for the moderate, was, of course, Senator Peter Fitzgerald. And, Peter went on beat an incumbent, albeit badly damaged, Democrat, Carol Moseley Braun, in the general election. Of course, Fitzgerald “chose,” not to run for re-election. But what that signifies is a topic for another blog entry.
Jeff Berkowitz, Host and Producer of Public Affairs and an Executive Recruiter doing Legal Search, can be reached at