With a little over six months before the Primary Election, the Illinois Republican Party finds itself deeply divided between those who think the Party and its candidate's should adhere to the state GOP's platform, and those who believe the platform is irrelevant.
This division isn't a recent development. It goes back more than 20 years, when then-Governor Jim Edgar was challenged by conservative financier Jack Roeser, and before that Chicago businessman Steve Baer. These races were followed by conservative State Rep. Al Salvi beating Lieutenant Gov. Bob Kustra in the 1996 U.S. Senate Primary; and State Sen. Peter Fitzgerald defeating State Comptroller Loleta Didrickson in 1998. In 2001 State Sen. Pat O'Malley challenged GOP Attorney General Jim Ryan and Governor Ryan's liberal Lieutenant Governor Corinne Woods for the Republican gubernatorial nomination.
The conservative/establishment tension increased in 2004 with the ILGOP's handling of the Jack Ryan/Alan Keyes debacle, and again in 2006 when Judy Baar Topinka won the party's gubernatorial nomination over conservatives Jim Oberweis and Bill Brady.
Now the 2014 campaign cycle looks to continue this history with a number of conservative newcomers challenging established politicians.
For example, Chris Balkema and Ian Bayne are challenging State Rep. Darlene Senger for the right to take on liberal Democrat Bill Foster in the 11th congressional district. Balkema and Bayne are somewhat new to the arena, whereas Senger has the backing of many of her colleagues in the Illinois House, including House GOP Leader Tom Cross.
And Tom Cross himself is facing a conservative challenger in DuPage County Auditor Bob Grogan. Both are vying for the GOP nomination for Treasurer.
Grogan has gained support of non-establishment types and activists, especially downstate. But Cross has a large campaign war chest from his time as House Minority Leader. An issue drawing criticism from several legislators.
Additionally, there is the challenge of ten-year incumbent State Rep. Sandy Pihos (R-Lombard) by attorney Peter Breen, and primary challenges of State Reps. Ed Sullivan (R-Mundelein) and Ron Sandack (R-Downers Grove). Both the result of the legislators' pro gay marriage positions, which is opposed by the Illinois Republican Party Platform.
Conservatives have told Illinois Review they are determined to uphold the planks of the ILGOP platform and force the party to hold to its principles. And they're not moved by incumbents' arguments that primaries waste money and create divisions. To them, primaries are where positions on issues are hashed out and candidates are vetted in preparation for the General Election.
In the end, they say, the job of the primary winners and losers is to ensure the GOP candidate wins in November.