Republicans hopefuls will keep their distance when Palin comes to town

  • Sarah Palin

    Sarah Palin Associated Press

Published: 5/2/2010 11:02 AM

While former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin hopes to rake in big cash for the Illinois Republican Party during her visit this month, top GOP candidates are not lining up to join her in the spotlight.

Republicans heading the state party's ticket, U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk for Senate and state Sen. Bill Brady for governor, don't plan to be at the fundraiser on May 12 in Rosemont.

The GOP's top suburban congressional hopefuls, Randy Hultgren of Winfield Township and Bob Dold of Kenilworth, aren't showing up either. Nor will suburban area GOP state senators like John Millner of Carol Stream and Dan Duffy of Lake Barrington.

So for all of Palin's star power as a former vice presidential candidate whose autobiography recently dominated the best-seller charts, many Republicans running for office in Illinois are not jumping up to meet her.

"They don't want to take the risk, but I'm sure they will take the money," surmises Paul Green, a veteran political professor with Roosevelt University.

A photo with Palin could prove damaging to some Republicans running in suburban districts that have been trending more and more Democratic in recent elections, Green says.

And even for steadfast conservatives like Brady of Bloomington, there is little upside in publicly aligning himself with Palin even though he has been quietly making the rounds with suburban tea party groups for months.

Illinois Republican Party Director Curt Conrad dismisses concerns about top candidates not showing up for Palin because she might not be as popular with more moderate voters. He added that the no-shows are not reflective of the historic intraparty division between moderates and conservatives.

"The party here in the last few months has put a lot of effort into building bridges to the different individuals and groups in the party," Conrad said. "I think that is coming together quite well. I just don't think we are doing anything to divide it."

The Palin fundraiser is part of an ongoing effort to build up Republican war chests for a general election battle with Democrats who have dominated the Illinois power structure for years. Arizona Sen. John McCain and Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele have also held local fundraisers in recent months.

For their own part, Republicans skipping the Palin fundraiser say they simply have other things to do. It has nothing to do with Palin's potentially polarizing effect on the electorate, they say.

Kirk, who has long taken heat from the conservative wing of the party, is scheduled for votes in the U.S. House that day.

Brady's campaign won't say why the candidate isn't attending, only that he has no plans to be there.

Meanwhile, suburban Republican lawmakers said they are not planning to attend because they might still be in session in Springfield, even though they are scheduled to be done by the end of this week.

Dold, who is running for Kirk's old 10th District seat in a nationally-watched race, has to attend a fundraiser for a local state representative candidate, campaign spokeswoman Kelley Folino says.

Hultgren's spokesman said the congressional candidate has a previously planned event with a local township GOP group.

Many suburban Republicans acknowledge Palin might not go over well in an Illinois general election. But they point out a sizable portion of their base are avid fans.

"Would her approval rating in Illinois be over 50 percent? Probably not," said state Sen. Matt Murphy of Palatine, who says he is not sure if he'll have the time to attend Palin's speech here. "But there are a lot of people who respect what she has done and stands for."

Duffy said Palin "is a controversial figure" in the media but "she is popular all over the U.S."

Asked if Palin is popular locally, Conrad said, "there are a lot of Republicans in Illinois that do see Sarah Palin as a national figure, which she is, and that does excite them."

Certainly the base of Palin support is large enough to justify her stop - Republican candidates showing up or not. In April, Palin was tapped to raise funds for a community center in downstate Washington near Peoria. About 1,100 people paid at least $100 a seat to hear her criticize President Barack Obama and tout conservative ideals.

Next week, Palin will host a $500-a-seat fundraiser for the Illinois Republican Party and then headline an event for AM 560 WIND, a conservative talk station, at the Rosemont Theatre. Tickets, which start at $54 and have been on sale for more than a month, were not yet sold out as of Friday for the 4,400-seat venue.

Dan Nelson, spokesman for AM 560, said there were about 800 tickets left to sell as of Friday. "The event will be full," he predicted.

Green said he might go as a fan of politics. "I think she is a force," he said.