Sunday, March 18, 2012
IN ILLINOIS, CONSERVATIVES & RICK SANTORUM ARE FIGHTING CHICAGO'S CITY HALL!
IN ILLINOIS, RICK SANTORUM IS FIGHTING CHICAGO'S CITY HALL
By REID J. EPSTEIN | 3/16/12 10:48 PM EDT
ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. — Rick Santorum has a message for Illinois: Stick it to the man.
With a ragtag outfit typical of his campaign and a few high-profile local endorsements ahead of Tuesday’s competitive Illinois primary, the former Pennsylvania senator couched his Illinois effort in old-fashioned political terms: He’s fighting City Hall.
In Santorum’s telling, Mitt Romney is the archetypical establishment pol, backed by the entire state GOP establishment, from the party chairman to three statewide elected officials on down while he is the little guy who just wants a stop sign put on his corner.
“The Illinois party doesn’t deal up a lot of conservatives for statewide office, so you have an opportunity now to sort of fight City Hall, if you will,” he said after greeting supporters at an Italian restaurant here Friday. “All the Republican establishment, as you know, is lined up behind Romney. Hopefully the conservative voices here in the state will say that the best chance for us to beat Barack Obama is to have a clear choice, not, you know, someone who is a little different or not different at all on some of the biggest issues of the day.”
The comparison wasn’t directly made during three campaign stops in this conservative suburb northwest of Chicago, but the Santorum-Romney contest is reminiscent of the 2010 GOP gubernatorial primary here.
Then, an underfunded Downstate conservative, state Sen. Bill Brady of Bloomington, defeated the more moderate establishment choice, state Sen. Kirk Dillard of Hinsdale, by less than 200 votes in a five-way primary. Polls have shown a competitive race between Romney and Santorum in Tuesday’s presidential primary, but Romney is favored — mainly because of history and establishment support.
But Santorum’s big finish in front of 1,000 enthusiastic supporters at Christian Liberty Academy here went straight to the idea that Illinois conservatives have long been a minority in their own party.
“This is a state they say, it just fits Romney,” Santorum said. “It’s a moderate Republican state. Conservatives don’t have much of an opportunity in Illinois to speak, don’t have much of opportunity to get statewide folks nominated and elected who are conservatives. But you do. You can make up for all of that frustration. You can make up for all of the slights by the leaders of this party here in Illinois. You can go out and win us this race!”
But part of the reason Illinois Republicans don’t nominate conservatives is that they tend to lose statewide.
Two years ago, Illinois Republicans chose Brady, even though Dillard, who represents DuPage County, the suburban heart of the state’s GOP, was a far more likely choice to defeat Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn, who won despite the stink of having served as Rod Blagojevich’s lieutenant governor.
Brady lost by just 32,000 votes out of 3.8 million cast.
Throughout that campaign, Dillard — a moderate who famously appeared in a 2007 campaign ad for Barack Obama — was attacked for his political apostasies, much as Santorum now attacks Romney for his past positions on social issues and health care mandates.
“The other candidates in the race tried to be as conservative as I was,” said Brady, who like Dillard has not endorsed in the presidential race. “There was just some issues in their background that didn’t allow that message to resonate for them.”
Another lesson for Santorum is closer to home. Al Salvi, who won a 1996 Senate primary as the conservative choice over an establishment moderate only to lose to Dick Durbin, is a co-chairman of Santorum’s campaign.
Even Salvi admitted it’s not likely that Santorum — or any Republican — can carry the state in November against incumbent Barack Obama, a former Illinois senator.
“I don’t think it’s likely that the Republicans will win Illinois. This is Barack Obama’s home state. It’s going to be very difficult for any Republican to win here.”
But while Brady split the vote with other serious Republican candidates, Santorum is Romney’s sole real competition in Illinois. And beyond his much-publicized difficulties securing delegate ballot access, the ex-senator may be at a further disadvantage because voters pull the lever for both a candidate and their slate of delegates. Santorum’s slate consists of relative nobodies while Romney’s list includes members of Congress, the Illinois General Assembly and mayors.
Santorum acknowledged the state’s demographics make it harder for him to win there than in Michigan or Ohio, where he came close but ultimately lost, though still gained traction in the spin wars.
“If we can pull off a miracle here and maybe even eke out a win here in Illinois, that will, pffft, that will change this race like, it will be more dramatic than having won Michigan or Ohio,” Santorum said. “We came close in those two states, and I know this is a tougher state, and he’s even outspending me more in this state than he did in the other states, but we’re going to do our best.”
Santorum’s team is playing up the David versus Goliath theme.
Santorum’s state director, Jon Zahm — who named his political public relations firm Goliath Slayer Communications — went so far as to say voters’ unfamiliarity with Santorum’s delegates will be a net positive.
“People don’t want to dust off old politicians and see who they are endorsing,” Zahm said. “These are dinosaurs. They’re no longer influential outside of their ability to write big checks.”
Posted by Eileen at 11:01 AM