SPRINGFIELD — The Illinois primary isn't until March 2020 and the general election isn't until November 2020, but Republicans are already testing a message for voters at the Illinois State Fair Thursday to see how well they can rally the troops.
In a state that is becoming increasingly Democratic, Illinois Republicans huddled today in Springfield to rebuild.
Illinois Republican Party Chairman Tim Schneider admits the GOP was decimated at the ballot box last year.
"We had a rough year. We lost the governor’s mansion. We have no statewide office holders and we lost several legislative seats, but that’s our current reality," Schneider said. "But it doesn’t — and it won’t — be our future. We can soak and complain and do nothing or we can make it better."
As the Republican insiders plot a course forward, they remain upbeat and on the attack.
"You may have heard of AOC... AOC stands for absolutely out of control," said Rep. Darin LaHood (R-Peoria).
House GOP Leader Jim Durkin said the "socialist agenda" is "not Illinois."
House Speaker Nancy Pesloi was Democrats' special guest Wednesday, and on Thursday the Republicans countered with U.S. House Minority Whip Steve Scalise.
"You absolutely can take your state back, and you will take your state back by fighting the machine," Scalise said.
Republicans are united in opposition to Governor Pritzker’s push to move Illinois from a flat income tax system to a graduated one with the wealthy paying more. They’ve formed a new committee called "Vote No on Blank Check Amendment."
"We’re up against the richest elected politician in the country so if we spend $1, he’ll spend $2, if we spend $10, he’ll spend $20 so I don’t think we’ll ever outspend him but it will be a significant amount of resources put towards this," committee member Greg Basie said.
Another issue that has united GOP officials is a possible pardon or commutation for Rod Blagojevich. The GOP congressional delegation says no way. In fact last week, Congressman Darin LaHood spent 15 to 20 mins on the phone with President Trump urging him not to do it.
"To me the conduct that Blagojevich engaged in is exactly what we’re trying to stop here in Illinois, it’s the definition of the swamp and I explained that," LaHood said. "I think the president is a good listener. I think he likes to listen to all sides. I’m one person that weighed in on this. There will be many others that do that, that have done that."