Illinois delegates to the Republican National Convention in Florida will finally get down to party business today.
When the GOP canceled most activities Monday due to Tropical Storm Isaac, delegates and politicos had plenty of time for speculation about another election … the election for Illinois governor in 2014.
As Isaac whipped sheets of rain against the Illinois Republicans’ hotel, many in the delegation hunkered down, trying to figure out what to do with their newfound free time.
Ashvin Lad, from Chicago, works for Illinois Treasurer Dan Rutherford —a name often mentioned when people speculate who might run against incumbent Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn in 2014.
Of all the seats up for grabs two years from now, Republican leaders here seem most optimistic about their ability to win the governor’s mansion —to take it away from the Democrat they say has failed to fix Illinois’ finances.
The only question is —who will it be?
Three names pop up regularly
Lad says he’s hearing rumors about his boss and about U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock of Peoria, and State Sen. Kirk Dillard of Westmont.
State GOP Central Committee member Judy Diekelman has heard a lot of speculation, too. “Well, right now there’s probably about 12 of them,” she laughs, as the storm blows outside. Fellow committee member Bobbie Peterson chimes in with a “yeah.”
Together, they’ve spent more than 50 years in the Illinois GOP, and they both hold leadership posts. They also both mention the same three names as possibilities for the 2014 gubernatorial race.
“Well, I think some of them started long before now, you know,” Diekelman, of Thornton, observed.
“Yeah,” agreed Peterson, who hails from Beecher. “They’re putting their plans together right now. They’re looking around at party leaders who can help them achieve their goal.”
Using their opportunities
All three potential candidates seem to be taking advantage of their networking opportunities at this year’s convention
After breakfast Monday, Treasurer Rutherford worked the hotel lobby like a ropeline. As the chairman of Mitt Romney’s Illinois campaign, he’s elevated his profile in the state party.
Then there’s young, handsome Congressman Schock —GOP Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan’s workout buddy —who’s been making the rounds on cable news shows.
Meanwhile, State Senator Dillard —who just barely lost the gubernatorial primary in 2010 —was already telling what he’d do differently in 2014.
“I’ll put whatever I learned, if I decide to run, to work this time that wasn’t in place last time,” Dillard said.
But people like Ashvin Lad, the delegate from Chicago, say that’s partially what the Republican National Convention is about: letting potential candidates gauge their support among the party faithful.
“The side conversations are going to happen about Illinois, because we’re all here, one big happy family —300 of us in one hotel, in a storm, and uh, you know,” Lad said, “inside baseball talks, it comes up.”
Leaders say their focus is now
And when you actually ask Rutherford, Schock, and Dillard point blank to discuss the speculation about the 2014 governor’s race, it seems like they’ve all heard this question before.
“Let’s just say my absolute laser beam focus is on Mitt Romney being the president of the United States,” Rutherford says.
“Quite frankly, I’m focused on the election in front of us, in 2012,” Schock insists. He’s challenged by Democrat Steve Waterworth as he runs for another House term.
An Dillard echoes, “We’ve got to get through the presidential election first, before we really laser focus in on the governor.”
All those laser beams should come into sharper focus today when the Republican National Convention actually gets underway.
Alex Keefe, of NPR member station WBEZ, reported for this story.