Things to know before trying to win in the 8th C.D.

A Republican-platform supporting candidate in Illinois can win in the 8th Congressional District but a few simple yet important things must first be understood.

For decades the IL GOP has squandered countless opportunities and allowed the voting public to forget the point of having two parties. In other words, the Republican brand name is almost worthless.

The tired excuse for this failure is “demographic changes.” In other words, we’re supposed to believe that Hispanics, for example, are genetically unable to support limited government and traditional values.

The fact is it’s not demography – it’s atrophy. Illinois Republicans haven’t had effective Party or legislative leaders for many, many years. As a result, the apparatus doesn’t exist that would help elect and back-up Republicans working to advance platform principles. The IL GOP has degenerated – declined – decreased from disuse (to paraphrase one dictionary’s definition of “atrophy.”)

This isn’t a new phenomenon. The feckless and principle-less Republican Party dates back to the Governor Jim Thompson era in the 1970s and 80s. It’s notable that Illinois almost went for Michael Dukakis in 1988.

The 1990s saw Governor Jim Edgar, where milquetoast was praised and thus ruled the day. Unfortunately ten years of state senate control was wasted by President Pate Philip. No effort was made by Team Philip to advance a Republican agenda, despite what was printed on countless campaign fliers.

Phil Crane, the man who held the 8th Congressional District seat for over thirty years, began to see primary opposition in the 1990s because he had retired while still on the job. Loyalists stuck with him and he survived only to finally lose the seat to Democrat Melissa Bean in 2004.

This is only part of the back story that any good candidate will have to deal with running to regain the 8th Congressional District for Republicans.

The 8th C.D. used to be a Republican stronghold. It can be again – but the recapture is going to require some new thinking. Even a good candidate (like Dave McSweeney was in 2006) won’t be able to get the job done without an honest embrace of reality.

It should go without saying that all the campaign basics from time immemorial must be brought to bear between now and November 2008. But a few additional facts must also be reckoned with.

No federal or state legislative district is an information island. People living within the 8th don’t get their news inside the lines of the district – and so any campaign has to realize they’ll be working against negative influences from outside the district.

The residents of the 8th will not get the message that the Republican candidate isn’t just another politician unless that candidate breaks from the pack. Reform is the name – and separation is the game.

The Illinois Republican Party is bankrupt of ideas and thanks to a long cast of characters has matched the Democrat Party in its reputation for corruption. George Ryan might have made history but his heirs are still making headlines.

The successful campaign must connect with ticked off voters. No candidate can activate the disaffected while embracing the failed leaders who still litter the Republican field.

Any effective candidacy will have to break from the old-guard of the IL GOP in unmistakable terms. Without that – no candidate – no matter how talented or right they are – will be able to muster the financial and volunteer support it will require to overcome Congresswoman Bean’s willing donors and army of public and private sector labor union campaign workers.

Another pitfall awaiting the next good candidate running as Republican in the 8th C.D. is that of the Illinois home-grown political consultant class. It seems as though no amount of failure detracts from the ability of these highly-paid slick-talking hacks to secure contracts from neophyte office-holder-want-to-be’s.

It’s our recommendation to all good candidates seeking top shelf campaign advice – look for proven out-of-state talent.

The difficulty of un-seating Congresswoman Bean is similar to what good Republican candidates face in other parts of the state. Not only in general elections, of course, but also in primaries against ideological Democrats masquerading as Republicans.

Every good campaign that’s waged – win or lose – can have a positive ripple effect on the public mind. The best case scenario is that there will be a dozen or more newly designed campaigns running on a parallel track all over the state.

Newt Gingrich’s 1994 “Contract” isn’t required. But a large enough effort is needed to break through the informational haze and impact voters. Voters know we’re not seeing what we need to see when it comes to government performance. They’re just waiting to hear from one of the political parties a credible answer to the questions of the day.

Right now the Illinois Republican Party is an empty shell. To make up for that by hoping the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee can fill the gap is problematic. The RCCC almost lost the Hyde seat last year by running a foolish campaign for Peter Roskam against an honorable Iraqi war veteran.

The better solution is for the candidate in the 8th to join in efforts to bring real reform and energy to the Illinois GOP.

The facts on the ground may have changed since the days when Reagan carried the state twice and Republicans used to win state wide or legislative majorities. But what hasn’t changed is that Republican Party Platform principles contain the firepower necessary to win the war for public support.