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Suddenly, GOP has plenty of candidates for governor
By Joseph Ryan | Daily Herald Staff

Joe Birkett


Bill Brady


Doug Whitley


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Published: 3/2/2009 12:08 AM

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The hopefuls

Here is a closer look at the three Republicans who have put themselves up for a possible run for the governor's office:

Joe Birkett

Background: DuPage County State's Attorney since 1996, he ran for attorney general in 2002 and lieutenant governor in 2006. Birkett has not announced a campaign for a particular office, but says he is wavering between another bid for attorney general or a run for governor.

Platform: Birkett portrays himself as the law-and-order candidate who fights corruption and stands up for the little guy.

Bill Brady

Background: A state senator from Bloomington since 2002, Brady came in third in the five-way GOP governor primary in 2006. Brady also previously served four 2-year terms in the state House.

Platform: Has traditionally appealed to the social conservative wing of the party but has tried to broaden his base campaigning across the state.

Doug Whitley

Background: Illinois Chamber of Commerce CEO (he is on leave from the position), former president of Ameritech Illinois and a former revenue director under then-Gov. Jim Edgar. He has not run for public office before.

Platform: Whitley says he has the business experience to bring jobs to Illinois and fix the state's budget problems.

Potential Republican candidates for Illinois governor have been testing the waters recently at fundraisers, chicken dinners and pancake breakfasts across the suburbs - the necessary first steps in the long path toward the state's highest office.

Today, about a year from the primary, the first contender - Bloomington state Sen. Bill Brady - is set to officially declare his candidacy, even though he has really been campaigning for months, if not years, much like the other hopefuls. Brady is announcing his run for governor at campaign stops in Chicago, Bloomington and downstate.

He came in third in the five-way 2006 governor GOP primary that then-Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka won. Brady landed 18 percent of the vote statewide and 9 percent of the vote in the West and Northwest suburbs.

Brady is sure to get plenty of competition on the Republican side again.

At a Northwest suburban fundraiser attended last week by Karl Rove, George Bush's political "architect," Brady and two other Republicans - DuPage County State's Attorney Joe Birkett and former Illinois Chamber of Commerce CEO Doug Whitley of Batavia - made their pitches to the party's rank and file.

"I'm a fighter. I will be prepared," said Birkett, who has not decided between running for governor or attorney general.

Birkett has failed in two bids for higher office, for attorney general in 2002 and lieutenant governor in 2006. But he did make it out of contentious Republican primaries in both runs.

And Birkett enjoys considerable suburban support, a key to winning any statewide race. He is counting on that to convince the party establishment to back him again.

"I hope you are going to be in my corner again," Birkett told the Republicans, most of whom were from northwest Cook County.

Brady acknowledged his lack of suburban support in 2006 and asked for attendees to consider him again. He made an impassioned plea based on party "values."

"We have to understand that the people of Illinois are looking for candidates and a party that has value," Brady said, adding he can "take that base out and sell it to the rest of the state."

Whitley says he wants a "revolution" in the party focused on job growth and restoring credibility to politicians and the state.

"I want to bring about fundamental change," he said.

Whitley has not officially announced, but was giving out handbills at the door that read "Doug Whitley for Governor. Let's get Illinois back on track."

Birkett, meanwhile, has been putting up signs and distributing handouts that read "Joe Birkett for Illinois," touting himself as a "Proven Leader. Proven Corruption Buster."

At the Rove fundraiser in Schaumburg, Birkett went after Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, the Democrat who beat him for the post in 2002, with a vengeance. Madigan is expected to either run for governor or seek a third term in her current office.

"If she thinks she had a tough race then," Birkett said of their match in 2002, "wait until 2010. You better get the gloves off, Lisa."

The GOP primary is currently set for February 2010, though some lawmakers are working to push the date back to August or September of that year, closer to the November general election.