When Illinois voters mark their ballots next month, President Obama will be getting a lot of the attention. But Illinois Republican Party Chairman Pat Brady will have his eye on some other names further down the ticket.
"Susan Sweeney in 55 in that Park Ridge area. I think she’s got a great chance to win," Brady said, rattling off several Republican candidates around Chicago's suburbs. "John Lawson in the 56 district. Jonathan Greenberg, Sid Mathias, Pat Fee out there in Naperville. And Bob Kalnicky down in the Joliet, Will County area."
Brady wants those six candidates to be the rising stars of Illinois Republicans and the reason he knows them so well is because Democrats control the House by six seats and the Senate by six seats. Both sides agree that’s not much separation between which party has the majority.
Two years ago, the GOP had some success when Republicans did well across the country and they picked up some Illinois legislative seats.
Brady’s hoping to continue that trend and get Illinois Republicans in the majority. He said the way to do that is by focusing on one person.
"If you vote for any Democrat in this state, particularly in the House of Representatives, because, remember, it’s the House members that elect the Speaker, you’re in effect, voting for more Mike Madigan," he said.
Take Susan Sweeney, who’s running in one of those competitive races Pat Brady just mentioned. She said the message about House Speaker Michael Madigan resonates in her district.
"The reason why it’s so challenging is because I know that I’m up against hundreds of thousands of dollars that are gonna be put in by the Michael Madigan machine," she said.
Sweeney is the Republican in an open race in Illinois’ 55th House District in Chicago’s Northwest suburbs. She recently attended a debate for candidates running for the state legislature.
Finding a seat wasn’t too hard. Just 37 people showed up to the O’Hare Radisson Hotel’s small banquet room for the debate. And that was the turnout for a race that’s one of the more competitive, attracting a lot of money from both political parties.
During the debate, Sweeney emphasized her business experience as a former IBM employee and the importance of her family.
"My son has gone off to college recently," she said during the debate. "When he comes back, will he be able to get a job here? And that’s why I’m running for state representative."
Sweeney is running against Democrat Marty Moylan, currently the mayor of Des Plaines. And she said there are some factors working against her, like the new legislative boundaries, which Republicans say were drawn by Democrats to make it harder on the GOP.
The thing is, Sweeney’s running in a district that’s historically been held by a Republican. So even if she wins, it doesn’t get the GOP any closer to taking those six seats. It just keeps them even. So in some ways, the Republicans are trying to hold on to what they have this election.
Still, Sweeney echoed party chairman Brady and said that Republicans can win the majority. She said it just comes down to voter turnout.
"I think we can do it if we get enough people that are willing to say, ‘Enough is enough. Step up and vote Republican,’" she said.
"Keep hope alive. You know, that’s a Chicago theme, right? And what are they gonna do? Give up?" said Chris Mooney, who teaches political science at the University of Illinois Springfield.
Mooney says it’s “not impossible” for Republicans to gain the majority in the Illinois House, but it’s hard when a lot of voters can’t even name the candidates further down the ballot.
Mooney said Republicans are more than likely laying the groundwork this year for the long game.
"They’ve got a better chance of doing something important in 2014 than they do in 2012," he said.
2014 is when the governor, attorney general, and other statewide races are up for election. Even Illinois Republican Party Chairman Pat Brady says he’s looking past November.
"Even if we don’t get it done in ’12, we’re definitely going to get it done in ’14. I do believe we’re going to get a Republican governor and that’ll set us up to get back the House and the Senate," Brady said.
In the meantime, Democrats say the Republicans will have to try something new if they want more power in Springfield. A spokesman for House Speaker Michael Madigan says Republicans have tried again and again to campaign on the platform of firing Madigan and so far it hasn't worked.
Madigan is still Speaker nearly 30 years later.