SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (NEXSTAR) — Illinois Republicans got their day at the Illinois State Fair on Thursday, gathering for their annual rally. Avoiding mention of former President Donald Trump, they focused on trying to regain relevance in Springfield.
Republicans lost ground across state government in 2022. They lost seats in the House while Democrats maintained a supermajority in the Senate. Republicans also didn’t win a single constitutional office.
On Thursday, Republicans thought being blunt was the way to go. In multiple speeches, Republicans described Illinois’ current political landscape as “one-party rule”.
“That is always the question. Do you set expectations sky high? Or do you be more modest about? said Republican Party Chairman Don Tracy said. “And to get to a two-party state again will take winning a lot of House seats, and a lot of Senate seats. And we’re not going to do that overnight.”
While they acknowledge they are down, they also said they are not out.
“It’s focusing on this state,” said Senate Republican Leader John Curran. “And that, we keep the conversation here in Illinois. We’re going to win, we’re going to grow.”
Republicans stuck to the hits on Thursday. Their speeches focused on Second Amendment rights, public safety and attacking the long list of progressive policies Democrats in Illinois have passed over the past several years. Even though that messaging didn’t result in wins in 2022.
“I don’t think the message has been the problem,” Tracy said. “But the Democrats keep going farther and farther left. And that just makes the message more resonant.”
Now, it is about trying to take back power in Springfield, one seat at a time. To do that, they need two things: a new crop of candidates and money.
The Republican Party was vastly outspent in 2022 and will need to exponentially improve their spending to compete with the billionaire Governor Pritzker and the Democratic Party.
“The time when we can rely on a self-funder, like the Democrats rely on a self-funder to do everything for them, and to organize everything, whether it be election integrity or get out to vote, is over,” Tracy said.
Republicans also focused on driving voter turnout, and with 2024 being a presidential election year, whoever is at the top of that ticket could play a big role in getting people to the polls.
But top Republicans wouldn’t say if they think former President Donald Trump would be good or bad for Republicans at the state level.
“I’m not in the business of saying who should run for president and not run for president,” said U.S. Congressman Darin LaHood (R-Peoria). “I will say this: as a former federal prosecutor, I believe in the rule of law. But I don’t believe in the unequal application of the law.”
During the Democrats’ rally at the fair the day prior, they were more than happy to define the Republicans as the party of Trump.
“The leader of their party is Donald Trump, there’s no way around that. He’s not up by five points or six points,” Secretary of State Alexi Gianoulias (D-Illinois) said. “He’s up by 30 or 40 points, and they have to answer for that. They have to answer for their attack on our planet, our attack on democracy, their attack on women’s rights, their attack on voting rights.
Tracy said he thinks there are some ulterior motives with the constant conversation around the former president, who was just indicted for a fourth time.
“I can’t figure out what these Democrat prosecutors are trying to do with Trump,” Tracy said. “I can’t figure out they’re trying to take him down, or promote him by helping him raise money and be in the news all the time.”
When asked if it would help or hurt Republicans down the ticket if Trump is at the top of the ballot in 2024, Tracy would not give a straight answer.
“That remains to be seen,” he said.