Illinois Republicans feeling blue in Chicago

By John Lendman

On Election night, Illinois Republicans were already planning their comeback at English Restaurant, 444 N. LaSalle St., even before the final results came in declaring then-Sen. Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States.

Hosted by the Cook County Republican Party and Illinois for McCain, English was transformed into a who’s who of Illinois Republicans with supporters and donors rubbing elbows with Republican Party leaders, senators, congressmen and representatives.

Loud cheers and jeers filled the restaurant as results poured in from the many flat-screen TVs tuned in to various news networks. As the night progressed, however, a feeling of uncertainty dawned on the diverse blend of Sen. John McCain’s supporters, sporting red ties and McCain/ Palin buttons.

Throughout the night, in small groups and niches, Republicans young and old discussed where McCain went wrong in political strategy, why they fear complete Democratic control of the government and how the Republicans can reunite before the 2010 election cycle.

“This will be a time for the Republican Party to look within itself, to expand their outreach,” said Rep. Daniel Brady (88-Ill.) before the final results came in.

Republican National Committeeman Pat Brady described the loss as a low-watermark of the Republican Party, minutes after Obama was declared the official president-elect.

“It’s difficult now, but we’ll come back,” Brady said. “We’ll stay with our issues, with conservatism, and we’ll continue to be good stewards of the government-that’s what the Republicans are focused on.”

Many supporters at the rally, swarming the restaurant to near capacity-with more than 350 attendees at one point-filed in with McCain buttons and posters hidden until after they entered the venue, located about 15 blocks away from Grant Park where the Obama rally was being held.

“Keep the McCain pins at bay until you’re safely at one of the campaign rallies,” Lionel Garcia, the 16th Ward Republican committeeman said he suggested to Republicans in Chicago.

Showing McCain pride in Obama’s hometown can be a bit lonely at times, said Janice Schaffrick, a Skokie, Ill., resident.

“I took the McCain button off walking up here,” she said. “I put it back on after I came in. I just feel like I’m the only one here sometimes in Chicago.”

Many Republicans began dissipating from the event as more and more states turned blue on the live network broadcasts. An enthusiastic crowd turned pessimistic as results showed McCain trailing in battleground swing-states such as Pennsylvania and Ohio around 9:15 p.m.

Many of the remaining supporters said they weren’t surprised by the outcome because the numerous polls prior to Election Day showed a near definite lead for Obama.

“We’re going to be the minority for the next two years, so we need to unite,” said Michael Josce, a Near North Side resident and Republican Party donor, as the results came in. “But if the Democrats have total control of both Congress and the White House, they’ll self-destruct and factions will develop like they do here in Illinois with the governor and the legislature.”

Josce said he thinks power struggles among Democrats are inevitable, giving Republicans an opportunity to energize and reform the party before the 2010 mid-term election.

Kristin Paulson, college coordinator of the Illinois Young Professionals for McCain, said she describes Obama as “very charismatic,” but also “very much an Illinois Democrat” lacking the leadership skills to work in a bipartisan manner.

Kevin DuJan, Chairman for DeMcCrats for McCain and a former Hilary Clinton supporter, said Nov. 4 was the first day he had ever voted for a Republican-and probably his last.

He said his main concern was that Obama would only work well with the people who supported him, describing it as “the Chicago way.”

As McCain gave his concession speech on every flat-screen TV in the restaurant, the room became completely quiet and still. Michael Layidus, a 30-year-old Brookfield, Ill. resident, said the first thing he thought was, “You know what, Obama is a good man.”

“And that’s the difference between Democrats and Republicans,” Layidus said. “Barack Obama is now my president, and I’m going to respect that.”