Thursday, September 22, 2005

Rauscheneberger beats Edgar and Oberweis—and Tom Roeser?

Edited slightly at 11:30 am on Thursday, Sep. 22.

Tom Roeser, perhaps the most prominent conservative in Illinois, seems to agree [See here] with the Jim Oberweis party line that former Governor Jim Edgar’s entry into the Republican Primary would propel Oberweis to the top of the field.

Roeser doesn’t spell it out completely, but I imagine the argument goes something like this: There are currently four potential Republican Primary gubernatorial candidates and four announced Republican candidates for the top State office [See here for old, but still reasonably accurate, odds and assessments of these eight candidates].

Let’s look at the four potentials: State Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka, Jim Edgar, Former State Senator and 2002 Gubernatorial Primary Candidate Pat O’Malley and DuPage State’s Attorney and 2002 Republican AG nominee Joe Birkett. Although Pat could still engage in some mischief and he might, odds are that he sits this one out. Most likely he has neither the inclination nor the ability to put together a statewide organization at this point.

Birkett, although coming within three points of beating the muscle and clout of Speaker Mike when Joe took on his daughter for AG, is also lacking in an organization and money, and his message for Governor is not resonating. And, if Edgar runs, Topinka says she won’t. So, with Edgar in, we go from four potentials to one actual—Edgar. [Indeed, if Edgar doesn’t get in, Topinka gets in and Birkett and O’Malley still probably get out].

Now, let’s look at the four actuals: State Senators Steve Rauschenberger and Bill Brady, Helene Curtis heir Ron Gidwitz and Dairyman and Investment Fund entrepreneur Jim Oberweis. If Edgar runs, Brady either becomes his Lt. Gov. running mate, of which there is talk or he steps down to another statewide position, with Edgar’s and the [old Establishment’s support] Note that Edgar is aligned thru history and temperament with the controversial Illinois link to the RNC—Bob Kjellander. As an aside, Sen. Brady is the only one of the four Republican announced candidates for Governor not to call for Kjellander to step down.

Gidwitz, in general, has a long shot bet that he can convert enormous television advertising expenditures into name recognition and credibility. The model here is Blair Hull’s 2004 Senate Democratic Primary campaign. However, Hull had more wealth than Gidwitz and he was willing to spend more of it. Further the dynamic of that Primary was different. In short, Gidwitz is likely to get out in either case, but more so if Edgar comes in because they are competing for many of the same moderate Republican votes and Edgar is better at it.

Oberweis has said he will not get out no matter what and no matter who gets in. Having lost two primaries for the U. S. Senate, he doesn’t mind the risk of being a “three time loser.” He also knows waiting two or four years doesn’t open up opportunities for him. He can afford to spend some money. So, why not? Oberweis is in, come hell or high water, and he has said so, essentially.

Rauschenberger has said he would assess the field and the circumstances if Edgar gets in. Not an unreasonable position to take.

Okay, so if Edgar gets in, we are left with Edgar, Oberweis and maybe Rauschenberger.

What happens? For one, Roeser says Rauschenberger has been mentioned as a Lt. Gov. candidate for Edgar. Several problems with that pairing. One, Rauschenberger, when asked what he thought of Edgar possibly getting in, has been fond of saying that the answer to the Republican Party’s problems “is not in the rear view mirror.” That would not be fun for Jim or Steve to deal with in a Edgar-Rauschenberger campaign, but winning tickets have dealt with far worse.

Also, especially during the 1992-1996 time period, Rauschenberger and the other Fab 5 state senators [Fitzgerald, Lauzen, O’Malley and Syverson] gave Governor Edgar quite a bit of grief. But, that was then and this is now. I imagine Edgar could get past that. Then there is Kjellander. Rauschenberger says Kjellander must go as Illinois’ RNC honcho and Edgar’s an old pal of his. Could Kjellander fall on his sword and make it easy for his old friend Jim Edgar to put that issue aside? Possibly.

If Edgar and Rauschenberger do get together, that could be one formidable ticket. Upstate-downstate. Pro-life and Pro-choice [both with their convictions, unlike the intellectually dishonest George Ryan in 1998]. They would both have to focus on fiscal responsibility and restoring integrity to government. Rauschenberger says we don’t need more ethics laws, just more ethical people in government. Could Edgar buy that. Rauschenberger says he could foresee no circumstances under which he would support an income or sales tax increase in the next four years [essentially taking the No New Tax pledge on my show]. Could Edgar buy that.

Edgar would be talking Pro-Choice on abortion. Could the Pro-life Steve Rauschenberger buy that. Could Edgar pass Rauschenberger’s test as a reformer? Without even getting into education and tax swaps, there is a lot to work out. But if they do, many would view that ticket as the first step to unifying the Republican Party in Illinois, putting the reform issue over the abortion schism. And, if they do all that, it is with the idea that Rauschenberger moves from Lt. Gov. to Governor in four years, and with the support of Edgar and his establishment allies.

If all of that works out, it is an uphill battle for Oberweis, but he could beat the Edgar Rauschenberger ticket. Forcing Pro-Lifers to take Pro-Choice Edgar with the Pro-life Rauschenberger might be more than they can swallow, even with the Oberweis’ residue of his comments tying Pro-Lifers to the Taliban. After all, even the Pro-Life, devout Catholic Tom Roeser has forgiven that Oberweis sin.

Oberweis would have to strike just the right note on immigration. He would have to make clear that he favors legal immigration and he wants to be compassionate about dealing with illegal immigrants who are already here, and yet not so compassionate as to keep attracting more illegal immigrants here. A real balancing act of which he has not been capable in the past.

Oberweis would have to convince the anti-taxers that Edgar’s historical receptiveness to higher taxes would prevail over Rauschenberger’s "No New Taxes," pledge. That may be very doable. Since when does the VP control the President. Since when did Pat Quinn prevail over Rod Blagojevich? Indeed, Pat who?

As of now, I give Edgar-Rauschenberger the edge over Oberweis, but things could go south for Team Edgar-Rauschenberger very fast.

As a alternative scenario, let’s say Edgar goes solo in the primary. Let’s say Rauschenberger convinces himself he has the money to compete with Edgar and Oberweis and he stays in [maybe his supporter Peter Fitzgerald becomes his financial angel; maybe O’Malley realizes that his views are a lot closer to his old friend Steve Rauschenberger than the other two and he becomes a financial angel to Steve]. Then what.

Well, maybe Steve becomes the centrist in the Primary, with Edgar suddenly on the left and Oberweis on Steve’s right. Yup, Steve becomes the Jim Ryan of the 2006 primary, i.e., the centrist. Poly Sci 101 tells us the guy [or lady] in the Center usually wins. And, in the general, Rauschenberger, like Blagojevich, may not be easy to spell or say, but it could be the winner. After all, Rauschenberger is not Ryan. Indeed, he is the Anti-Ryan. Not a bad position to be in with the George Ryan trial as the background landscape for the Republican Primary.

And Oberweis. Perhaps he should be careful what he wishes for. He just may get it.

Jeff Berkowitz, Host and Producer of Public Affairs and an Executive Recruiter doing Legal Search, can be reached at