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Thursday, Nov. 12, 2009 03:52 am

Republicans catch ‘tea party fever’

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“Tea party fever” is to the Republican Party what the H1N1 Flu is to the general populace. It’s spreading fast and it’s potentially dangerous.

Establishment Republican politicians all over the country are becoming more freaked out by the angry, anti-tax, anti-illegal immigration, anti-Obama, anti-whatever tea party protestors and are mimicking their rhetoric. Even in Illinois, where top GOP politicians mostly took a pass on the harsher aspects of the “Reagan Revolution” rhetoric of the past 30 years — not wanting to alienate the general electorate — the trend is becoming obvious.

At a recent Republican gubernatorial forum sponsored by a tea party group, the normally staid and ever-mainstream conservative state Sen. Kirk Dillard (R-Hinsdale) actually called President Barack Obama a “Socialist.” Dillard, you may recall, appeared in a TV ad for Obama during the presidential campaign. Dillard revealed last week that he knew Obama was a Socialist all along because Obama’s health care proposals in the Illinois Senate were so far to the left. That one left me scratching my head. Why would Dillard knowingly push an obvious commie for president of the United States?

During that same tea party debate, and at another forum two days later, state Sen. Bill Brady (R-Bloomington) vowed to stop the federal government from dragging Illinoisans into any federal health care reform plans no matter what. Brady also said the tragic shooting at Fort Hood last week might have been prevented with concealed carry laws, even though the military base is in Texas, a state which allows concealed carry. The very next day, another lone gunman shot up an office building in Florida, killing one and injuring several others. Florida also allows trained citizens to carry concealed weapons.

Also at the tea party debate, DuPage County Board Chairman Bob Schillerstrom, who is the only pro-choice candidate in an otherwise staunchly pro-life group of candidates, denied that humans have anything to do with global warming. The other candidates agreed.

Former Illinois Republican Party Chairman Andy McKenna, who hobnobs with more insiders than just about anybody, continued to insist last week beyond all available evidence that he is a true political “outsider.”

Former Illinois Attorney General Jim Ryan declared that if elected he would roll back the minimum wage by 75 cents per hour.

And then there was Republican congressman and current U.S. Senate candidate Mark Kirk practically begging for kind words from the far right’s darling, Sarah Palin. Kirk had said some nice things about Palin when she was first named as John McCain’s running mate last year, then flip-flopped and said harsh things, but there he was last week once again cozying up to her.

The politics of this aren’t too hard to figure out, particularly for the gubernatorial candidates. The GOP’s right wing is angry and energized and will vote in comparatively large numbers in the February primary. Alienate them and off the island you go.

Even so, the candidates all need to take a deep breath and try to realize how silly they’ll look to general election voters if they keep this up and do manage to win that primary race. They’re so fearful of being attacked from the right that they’re in danger of making themselves unelectable when the rest of the voting public enters the picture.

On paper, at least, the Republicans have a good chance of winning next year. Disgraced former governor Rod Blagojevich goes on trial in the summer. Both Democratic candidates for governor — Comptroller Dan Hynes and Gov. Pat Quinn — are fighting over who has the “better” tax increase. Every Democratic U.S. Senate candidate has flaws that the GOP can easily exploit.

Also, last week’s national off-year results showed horrific turnout among Democrats and African-Americans in the Virginia and New Jersey gubernatorial elections. The African-American vote was almost 30 percent lower in Virginia compared to four years ago.

But if the Republicans aren’t careful, they’re going to spout one too many far-right talking points and demonstrate to Illinois general election voters that they can’t be trusted. I know they gotta do what they gotta do to get past the primary, but they need to keep their eyes on the big prize.

Rich Miller publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and thecapitolfaxblog.com.

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