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Kasich Lunch Creates More Distrust Between The Illinois Republican Delegation

Illinois Republicans got to have a midday snack with Ohio governor and former presidential candidate John Kasich Monday. 

Getting some face time with national political figures is one of the perks of going to the Republican National Convention, but for some Illinois Trump delegates, the lunch with Kasich was a distraction and it increased the strain in their already fragile relationship with a state party they say hasn’t done enough to back their candidate.

It’s been well-publicized that former presidential candidate John Kasich is not going inside the convention center. Instead, he’s meeting state delegations, like Illinois’ -- at a nice steakhouse in downtown Cleveland.

On Monday, the room for Kasich was so full of Illinois delegates wanting to hear from Kasich that the restaurant’s air conditioning system couldn't keep the delegates from getting sweaty. But just as Kasich started addressing the crowd, chaos was erupting on the floor of the RNC. In short, the Never Trump Delegates were making a last ditch effort at disrupting the nomination of Donald Trump.

But inside the steakhouse, it wasn’t yet clear what was happening on the floor, and Kasich didn’t address it. Instead, the Ohio governor talked about supporting Illinois Republicans like Gov. Bruce Rauner in his prolonged fight with a Democratic supermajority in the state House and Senate. Rauner has also not formally endorsed Trump and is skipping this week’s national convention.

“At some point, Rauner’s gonna break through. It’s like chipping away at the wall. It’s like chip, chip, chip, and when the dam breaks, Illinois’ gonna be better off,” Kasich told delegates.

But for Trump delegates like Stella Kozanecki, that five-minute speech was not worth the trip.

Kozanecki and her fellow Trump delegate Maria Hough said they regret their decision to go see Kasich. Like many of the Illinois delegation, they’re completely new to the political process and figured they’d just follow the schedule given to them by the Illinois Republican Party.

“When we first got the invite, [Stella] said ‘I smell a rat, I don’t wanna go.’ And I said Stella, ‘it’s steak, we’ll go have some steak.’ And we thought it was okay!” Hough said.

But then the Illinois Trump delegates got word via text message that things weren’t okay.

“I’m really sorry we went to the steakhouse this afternoon with the Illinois delegation,” Kozanecki said. “I always miss all the fun.”

So they bolted from the steakhouse: 80-year-old Stella Kozanecki in a wheelchair, and Maria Hough pushing her wildly through the chaos of downtown Cleveland. Before Hough even stepped foot in Cleveland, she said her sole purpose of attending the convention was to “protect her man,” by which she means Donald Trump. And in that moment, running through the streets of Cleveland, it felt to her like her desire for steak could cost Trump the nomination.

By the time they made it to the floor, the chaos was over and there was no longer a threat to Trump.

But something still wasn’t okay for Hough and Kozanecki.

“I feel like I was duped,” Hough said.

Hough and Kozanecki think the Kasich lunch was a ruse to get them out of the convention hall and leave Trump’s nomination vulnerable. But even Kasich supporters who were Never Trumps from Illinois opposed what happened on the convention floor. One prominent Never-Trump delegate, Pat Brady, said the opportunity to deny Trump the nomination fell apart last week.

But for Kozanecki and Hough, there are still lingering doubts about the Illinois Republican Party leadership, and it speaks to the distrust between those who run the Illinois Republican Party and those who are new to it, watching as supporters of Trump. And this is happening during a week meant to unify the party.

WBEZ’s Tony Arnold and Lauren Chooljian will be reporting from the Republican and Democratic conventions. Follow them on Twitter for live updates.

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