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With Edgar out, who will challenge Blago?

Monday, October 03, 2005

Who will lead the Illinois Republican party's effort to win back the governor's office? That is the question now that former governor Jim Edgar has decided he won't run. While the spotlight is shifting to state treasurer Judy Baar Topinka, some GOP conservatives are throwing their support behind a little-known state senator.

The most popular Illinois Republican after Jim Edgar is another GOP moderate, state treasurer Judy Baar Topinka. But Republican insiders say that she is reluctant to face an expensive and potentially bitter primary next March because even if she wins round 2 begins immediately against Governor Rod Blagojevich, who has $15 million in his campaign fund and no opposition in the Democratic primary.

"It is getting a little late and she is under pressure. If I was a betting person, my guess is she would probably run for re-election as treasurer even though she is clearly the Republican's strongest chance to unseat Blagojevich," said Kirk Dillard, DuPage Republican chairman.

DuPage County state's attorney Joe Birkett is likely to run if Topinka doesn't, joining a field of conservative Republicans that already includes state senator Steve Rauschenberger and dairy magnate Jim Oberweis. But a coalition of conservative GOP groups has already endorsed another state senator, Bill Brady, from downstate Pontiac.

"Brady just projects as a very sincere, down-to-earth guy. He's got a lot of charisma," said Paul Caprio, Conservative Summit.

Depending on what Topinka does, Brady also has a chance to win the support of moderate Republican leaders who may be reluctant to back the only other moderate in the race, Ron Gidwitz, who is still in low, single digits in the polls despite spending more than a million dollars on TV ads.

"You spend $1 million or plus on TV and you're not making any traction, you ought to make some real hard decisions. So Gidwitz for the next couple weeks is going to have some real tough decisions to make," said Dillard.

The Gidwitz campaign says the poll numbers will improve in the next few weeks and they are in the race to stay.

As for Judy Baar Topinka, she is in Springfield this week trying to line up enough financial and political commitments from Republicans at the White House, in Congress and around the state of Illinois to ensure a competitive race against Rod Blagojevich. If she wins the GOP primary -- if she gets the commitments -- she probably runs. If not, the answer is no and it is likely to be settled in about a week.

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