Illinois State Treasurer Dan Rutherford is attempting to derail a move that would finally make Illinois a major player in Republican Presidential politics.
The dispute revolves around a proposed rule change to the process of selecting delegates to the Republican National Convention.
To understand the situation, you must understand the Illinois system. Currently, the Presidential Primary in Illinois is a so called “beauty pageant” – meaning the winner of the Primary election does not receive ANY delegates to the Convention. Under the current rules, delegates run individually and are not bound to any candidate. In addition, each delegate and alternate delegate is required to collect hundreds of signatures to qualify for the ballot and then run a campaign in an area the size of a Congressional district. This process makes Illinois irrelevant in Republican Presidential Primaries.
First, on the surface, this may seem like a system that allows maximum participation from Illinois citizens. But, in reality, collecting signatures and running a campaign in a Congressional District is an expensive operation. Only 4 states in the entire country even use this archaic 19th century process. It ensures that the only people who have the resources to qualify for the ballot are well known and well funded – and where does this funding come from? The Presidential candidates who run slates of delegates that will be loyal to them. Excluded from this process are hardworking Republican loyalists with “low name ID,” Tea Party activists, and anyone else not deemed a high value asset.
Second, and most damaging, is the system ensures that once the delegate slates have been filed, the Presidential campaigns disappear from Illinois. The Presidential election, as stated, is irrelevant when you are counting delegates. Why waste the money to win nothing? And it’s a drain on resources to attempt to run 60+ individual delegate races. So the campaigns allocate the resources to help high profile delegates get on the ballot. And then they are gone by December – weeks before the Iowa caucuses.
But recently, new rules have been proposed that would instantly make the state relevant – really relevant.
First, a new rule would make the Presidential Primary relevant to the delegate count. Under the new proposal, any candidate who receives over 50% of the vote would receive all of the delegates – a “winner take all” Primary*. Having the 7th highest delegate count in the country in a winner take all system would ensure candidates were opening offices, hiring staff, attending town halls, and giving Illinois the respect it deserves as the Land of Lincoln.
Second, eliminating the separate delegate elections would allow the winner of the Primary ensure that real activists are finally given the chance to attend the Republican Convention.
So, back to the original question – why is Dan Rutherford trying to maintain Illinois’ submissive status? The answer is Mitt Romney. Rutherford is Romney’s man in Illinois.
But, Romney is slipping in the polls, having already lost his lead to Rick Perry. He also faired poorly in the recent Ames straw poll in neighboring Iowa. At this point, the Romney campaign is probably not feeling very confident about winning the mid-Western state of Illinois. Their strategy revolves around funding a bunch of well-placed Romney-bots on the ballot as delegates. Lose the State, but win a majority of loyal delegates. Dishonest politics at it’s worst. . If Rick Perry wins the Primary, shouldn’t the delegates go to the convention and support Perry? Or Bachman, or Paul, or whoever the eventual winner is? Shouldn’t the Tea Party have an opportunity to have delegates at the convention? Yes. Yes. And Yes. But this hurts Romney.
So in steps Dan Rutherford and his recent letter to state party members on very official looking letterhead. But it may be too late. Last year, Illinois Republicans remembered what it was like to win, electing five new Members to Congress and Mark Kirk to the U.S. Senate. They are a Party on the rise.
At the beginning of 2010, it took balls to think the Illinois GOP could win anything. But they did. And it takes balls to stand up now and say you are sick of being a bit player and you want the Republicans in Illinois (not Boston) to decide who they will support for the Republican Presidential nomination. Hopefully, the state party members have the balls to make it happen.
*If no candidate receives 50% of the vote, the delegates would be allocated proportionally. They would remain bound unless released.