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Governor race has a decidedly DuPage feel to it
By Joseph Ryan | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 11/30/2009 12:10 AM

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With four of the seven Republican governor candidates hailing from DuPage County, some in the GOP privately hope at least one will drop out and limit the splintering of the crucial suburban vote.

The clock is ticking. Candidates have until Thursday, Dec. 3 to scratch their name off the Feb. 2 primary ballot.

"Maybe that will ... alleviate some pressure," says state Rep. Bob Biggins of the possibility that one of the four DuPage County candidates drops out.

Three of DuPage County candidates are well-known names in local politics: former Illinois Attorney General Jim Ryan; state Sen. Kirk Dillard of Hinsdale and DuPage County Board Chairman Bob Schillerstrom. Reform activist Adam Andrzejewski is from Hinsdale.

But the likelihood of any of them dropping out is murky. Currently, all seven candidates are campaigning heavily.

Ryan surprised many with his late entry into the race just a few weeks ago. Having been attorney general for eight years and running for governor in 2002, he has the highest name recognition in the field.

Dillard has a long record in government and landed the treasured endorsement of former Illinois Gov. Jim Edgar. He is also expected to have a viable fundraising network.

Schillerstrom of Naperville views himself as having an edge as the most moderate candidate with executive experience. Though he was booed at a GOP debate for opposing concealed-carry gun laws, he has largely been unflinching in his reach to the middle. He has been running radio ads and traveling statewide.

Other candidates in the race for governor are conservative commentator Dan Proft of Chicago, state Sen. Bill Brady of Bloomington and former Illinois Republican Party Chairman Andy McKenna of Chicago.

The clutch of DuPage GOP brass in the primary only underscores a GOP battle that has left analysts shaking their heads.

With seven candidates in the race, all of whom lack a clear lead, it is conceivable one could eke out a victory with less than a quarter of the vote in what is expected to be an extremely low turnout election.

That scenario gives a better chance to more conservative candidates who haven't traditionally played well in the suburbs, like Brady.

Brady came in third in the 2006 GOP primary and he has speculated that he might be able to win this time with just the 135,370 votes he won back then.

So when it comes to DuPage County - long considered the base of the Republican party in Illinois - many in the know express hope that someone bows out.

"I certainly hope they will continue to communicate, continue to debate, but in short order they come to the realization as to who has the most of the best qualities to win the general election," says state Sen. John Millner, a Carol Stream Republican.

The concentration of DuPage candidates in the race has inevitably led to awkward encounters among the county's party elites. Many politicians who have risen in the county in recent years, and those on the rise still, have had considerable contact with Dillard, Ryan and Schillerstrom.

"It is terrible, but this is just what happens," says Jim Durkin, a Western Springs Republican who once ran for U.S. Senate.

Durkin is backing Schillerstrom, but he says only good things about Dillard and Ryan.

That is the same position state Rep. Mike Connelly finds himself in. The Lisle Republican calls Dillard a "great mentor," but he endorsed Schillerstrom.

Connelly also points out, "There are a lot of people who wished Jim Ryan got in the race a lot earlier."

For their part, the DuPage County trio of governor hopefuls has been attempting to play to more than their traditional base of suburban voters. But ask any of them, and they will likely claim a stranglehold on the county that has long been credited with putting Republicans in power in Illinois.

"I view myself as a statewide candidate," Dillard says, before being sure to declare, "I'm 2-1 ahead of everyone else in DuPage County."

The DuPage-based intraparty struggle in the suburbs has a lot of state party officials worried that yet another divisive primary will undermine support for the eventual nominee in the general election. Judy Baar Topinka's loss to Gov. Rod Blagojevich in 2006 has been blamed, in part, on just that.

To that end, Illinois Republican Party Chairman Pat Brady has declared himself a referee, promising to call out candidates who run unfair attack ads. A debate scheduled by the state party in early November was careful to avoid gay rights, guns and abortion - hot button topics that often divide the GOP in Illinois.

The strategy has largely seemed to work, so far. But the campaigns are not expected to get heated until just after New Year's Day, a month from the early Feb. 2.

Meanwhile, political players in the suburbs will continue to try to pick the right horse in an overpacked race.

"There is a pretty good group here. And a pretty big group," says Biggins of Elmhurst, who has not yet endorsed. "That is why they have secret ballots."