Who Will Republicans Run for Governor of Illinois?

For months, there's been speculation about the 2010 Illinois governor's race, but almost all of it has been on the Democratic side. I made ...
by | December 10, 2008

For months, there's been speculation about the 2010 Illinois governor's race, but almost all of it has been on the Democratic side. I made this problem worse yesterday by writing about the governor's race -- and talking almost exclusively about Democrats.

So who are the Republicans who might run? It's hard to say right now -- and Republicans don't have a lot of high-profile candidates -- but there are a few possibilities.

The hottest Republican in Illinois is congressman Mark Kirk. The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza writes that Kirk is a possible candidate for the possible special election to fill Obama's Senate seat:

Kirk, who has held the North Shore 10th district since 2000, is, without question, Republicans' strongest potential candidate. Kirk has proven his vote-getting ability in a swing district over the past few cycles, has a decidedly moderate voting record, and is among the strongest fundraisers among House GOPers. (Kirk raised $5.5 million for his 2008 race.) Kirk's problem would be the Republican primary as his record on social issues is anathema to the party's base. But, will conservatives forgo a chance to reclaim the seat by working to oust Kirk in a primary? Time will tell.

Kirk, of course, would be a strong candidate for governor too. His survival this year was impressive. He faced a tough opponent who had the benefit of Obama's coattails.

Kirk might be more interested in a Senate special election than the governor's race. Since a special election would take place sometime next year, it wouldn't require a sitting congressman to give up his or her seat. The governor's race, of course, would require that risk.

However, it's not clear that the Senate election is actually going to happen, since Blagojevich himself has some power to dictate whether and when the bill authorizing the election goes into law. And, with redistricting looming, Kirk might be in a risk-taking mood.

Kirk has held his seat in part because his district was made more Republican in redistricting in 2002. With Democrats holding large majorities in both houses of the Illinois legislature, there's a good chance that the line drawing will be less kind to him this time . So, there's a pretty strong incentive for him to run for something new in two years, be it Senate (no matter how it's filled, Obama's old seat will be up in 2010) or governor.

Republicans also have a couple of former officeholders who would also make strong candidates. The strongest would be Jim Edgar, a popular two-term governor from the 1990s. The problem: After considering a run for governor in 2006, he vowed never to run for office again. Edgar actually isn't all that old (only 62), but he has had some health problems. He is to Illinois Republicans what Tom Kean Sr. is to New Jersey Republicans: The candidate they always want, but can never get to run.

Peter Fitzgerald is perhaps a more realistic possibility. He's the former U.S. senator who declined to seek reelection after just one term in 2004. Fitzgerald wasn't hugely popular when he left (he would have been vulnerable if he'd tried for a second term), but also wasn't hugely unpopular. He'd give Republicans a well-known former statewide officeholder.

Beyond those three candidates, there aren't a lot of big names, unless you count Dennis Hastert. Cillizza mentioned outgoing congressman Ray LaHood as a possibility for Senate, so maybe he would be interested in the governorship.

There are also plenty of retreads (like 2006 nominee Judy Baar Topinka or 2002 nominee Jim Ryan), other congressman, up-and-coming state legislators or rich businessman who could end up as the nominee. One prediction: It won't be Jim Oberweis.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer
mailbox@governing.com

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