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Will DuPage GOP split over gov's race?
By Joseph Ryan | Daily Herald Staff

State Sen. Kirk Dillard

 

DuPage County State's Attorney Joseph Birkett

 

Paul Michna | Staff Photographer

DuPage County Board Chairman Bob Schillerstrom

 

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Published: 6/11/2009 4:24 PM | Updated: 6/11/2009 5:09 PM

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The field of DuPage County-based Republicans floating a bid for governor is growing ever more crowded with state Sen. Kirk Dillard now clearly adding his name to the list.

"When I pull the trigger, it will be followed swiftly with one of the most aggressive campaigns this state has ever seen," Dillard said. "I will draw a clear difference between the Democrats' failed Springfield policies and the direction I would lead Illinois."

Dillard has been lobbying civic, business and party leaders for weeks. He plans to make several downstate stops over the weekend and he sent a letter Thursday announcing his interest to Republican Party officials across the state.

The Hinsdale Republican is the third member of the DuPage County GOP brass to throw his hat in the ring following DuPage State's Attorney Joe Birkett and county board Chairman Bob Schillerstrom. State Sen. Bill Brady, a Bloomington Republican, is already officially running.

While a majority of DuPage County voters in November went for Democrat Barack Obama, the West suburban county is still considered the strongest base for the beleaguered GOP. Any Republican running statewide must carry a convincing majority in DuPage and other suburban counties to have a shot at overcoming the sizable Democratic margins that traditionally come out of Chicago.

With potentially three DuPage GOPers running, however, there is concern that a bitter primary could washout the Republicans' suburban base for the general election.

Dillard says he is hoping he can convince Schillerstrom and Birkett to back off their potential bids for that reason.

"I would hope the Republican primary could be avoided in the gubernatorial race," Dillard says. "Bob and Joe are my friends and hopefully we will work this out before everybody starts passing petitions."

Petitions on which candidates gather signatures from voters in order to get their names on the ballot will begin circulating in about two months. The primary is set for February.

Still, Schillerstrom and Birkett - who both put their names out before Dillard - are showing no signs of bowing out.

Both have contracted staff, begun fundraising and set up Web sites. Schillerstrom is technically running an "exploratory committee" and Birkett is still officially debating between running for governor or attorney general. He is also thinking about a run for the state appellate court.

Birkett put out a fundraising plea this week blasting Gov. Pat Quinn, a Chicago Democrat. Birkett said he has meet with Dillard, but told him it is too early for him to pick a race.

"I feel confident that my numbers in this state are strong," said Birkett, who previously has run for lieutenant governor and attorney general.

Yet Birkett acknowledged a hard-fought primary campaign in the suburbs would be bad for the party. "I think the voters in this state are sick and tired of it," he said.

Meanwhile, Schillerstrom's campaign spokesman Brad Hahn says the county chairman's bid is "very much for real." Schillerstrom floated his name in 2006 but backed out.

Dillard would enter the race as a veteran state senator, former head of the DuPage County GOP, former chief of staff to Gov. Jim Edgar and an ex-aide to Gov. Jim Thompson.