A curious group of North Shore suburbanites met in Winnetka last night to hear an update from Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus on the state of the Party after the 2012 political losses. The core suburban moderates who were brought in to open their check books mingled with an attendance-boosting group of not-so-moderate conservative activists. The fund-raiser, which seemed to peter out well before dinner could be served to high rollers (were there any at all?), gave Chairman Priebus a taste of the current tension in Illinois Republican politics – a tension that has been there for decades, but which may be coming to a head as Illinois faces Democrat-nurtured insolvency and almost universal loss of Republican representation after the 2012 elections. With the illness and uncertain political future of Senator Mark Kirk, the Republican Party of Illinois is looking more and more like a sinking ship.
Meanwhile Reince Priebus is outlining plans for the national party to reach outside the traditional Republican voter demographics and expressing some worries that the resources are not going to be there to make the GOP a competitor to Democrat Machine activists, who have the free time and cash to keep campaigns working year in and year out. The subject of conservative Republican candidates like Paul McKinley in the 2nd Congressional District special election last week – who was not supported, or even acknowledged, by the Illinois Republican Party – was a head-scratcher for Priebus. Here was a populist minority candidate offering a real chance to publicize the GOP message to a new constituency, and he was not permitted to be part of the program. Could it be that the Republican establishment is as central to the problem as the Democrats in Illinois? Witness the scene at the Republican State Central Committee meeting last week where observers like Paul McKinley, the Daily Herald and the Illinois Review on-line newspaper were locked out of the meeting for hours and confronted by calls to the local police.
All this was lost on the aforementioned suburban voters at the Winnetka fundraiser and many of the low information local politicians in attendance as well. These are the Chardonnay folks who do their polling by cocktail party conversation. (Example: the “guns are so scary” and “property tax increases are for the children” voters). The conservatives in attendance, meanwhile, are wondering when it will dawn on Illinois Republicans – with the better examples of Indiana and Wisconsin not so far afield – that this state needs some change we can believe.