Karl Rove, the political brain trust of former President George W. Bush, told Northwest suburban Republicans they can win back the state if they don't rip the party apart in the primaries early next year.
"The people are looking closely at the quality of candidates you put forward," Rove said. "You better not claw yourselves up and bloody yourselves up and cut yourselves up in a primary."
That is crucial, Rove mentored at a Schaumburg fundraiser, because the time is ripe for a GOP comeback in the statewide 2010 elections, or a potential special Senate election, given the arrest of Democratic former Gov. Rod Blagojevich and scandal surrounding Democratic Sen. Roland Burris.
"It strikes me that you have a pretty easy message," Rove told the several hundred attendees at the Schaumburg Marriott. "If you want change from the way things are then you ought to elect yourself a Republican governor."
It is the same message that the Illinois GOP's top brass has been preaching in the home state of President Barack Obama after years in the political darkness.
Party leaders have also been advocating reaching out to independent voters in the suburbs, who have increasingly turned to Democrats in recent elections. Illinois GOP Chairman Andy McKenna said the presence Monday of Rove, a favorite target of Democrats, could only help that goal.
"Everything I've heard Karl speak on is about building a party that reaches out," McKenna said.
Rove is the second GOP star to try to rev up suburban Republicans recently. On Friday, Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele spoke at a fundraiser for the DuPage County GOP.
Monday's fundraiser, which took in cash for suburban GOP township committees, drew several statewide Republican candidates, including Illinois Chamber of Commerce CEO Doug Whitley of Batavia, DuPage County State's Attorney Joe Birkett, state Sen. Bill Brady of Bloomington and state Sen. Dan Rutherford of Pontiac.
The bulk of attendees, however, were Republicans who run the villages, libraries, park districts and townships in the Northwest suburbs.
The fundraiser, held at the Marriott in Schaumburg, was hosted by the Republican committees of Schaumburg, Barrington, Hanover, Elk Grove, Palatine and Wheeling townships.