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Friday, November 24

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Airbags

The Illinois GOP's 2002 "catastrophe" has been well-documented and harped upon since Election Day of that year. For my part, I always felt rumors of the Illinois Republicans' death were greatly exaggerated -- one solid candidate's victory in a statewide election, and they can be well on their way back to relevancy. Of course, the Alan Keyes fiasco didn't help -- but Illinois Republicans are a far cry from Rhode Island Republicans.

But many Illinois conservatives saw the fall of George Ryan as an opportunity to "cleanse" the party of moderates and model the state party after the national party, which has aligned itself with neoconservatism and hard-right social and economic ideology. This cadre of Republicans, which includes a smattering of state legislators, party activists and big-money contributors, feel that the reason the Republicans have failed in recent years isn't because they're too conservative, but because they aren't conservative enough; because they're "Democratic-Lite," the same accusation that Democrats often hurl at their national party. The answer, of course, is more "red meat" -- more radical conservative policies that will bring out the conservative majority that is slumbering out to the polls.

Thus the rationale for Alan Keyes.

By associating the ruling, moderate wing of the party with George Ryan (as opposed to its true icons -- Jim Thompson, Jim Edgar, etc.), these right-wing ideologues think they can expunge the moderates as "corrupt" and return the party to some "true conservatism" it never really had. Sometimes these attempts are more hilarious and clumsy than others. To wit: NoLahood.com. (Watch the intro. Trust me.)

NoLaHood.com may be a bigger threat than many give it credit for, in between fits of derisive laughter. However, it is not a threat to Ray LaHood, the central Illinois Congressman who bears the brunt of its awkward attacks. No, it is a threat to the Republicans as a whole, because the more they go after the moderates who have a chance to succeed in the rock-ribbed moderate collar counties of Lake, Will, and DuPage counties, the worse they're going to perform.

The author of this site, Bill M. Leubscher, is a self-proclaimed "digital design genius," and a twenty-something Republican activist from Evergreen Park and a professional Photoshopper (warning, link may cause seizures) with a degree from Columbia College. He makes wild, irresponsible claims about several Illinois Republicans in his attempt to discredit Ray LaHood, who by any measure is a scandal-free moderate conservative. He insinuates that Barack Obama (who, according to a Leubscher-designed ad, refers to everyone as "Brotha!") and Ray LaHood secretly worked together at the behest of House Majority Leader Michael Madigan to bring down the mighty ship that was the Jack Ryan candidacy in order to weaken the party. Of course, many Illinois Republicans of all stripes resented Ryan for not disclosing his racy past earlier in the race -- and, in fact, outright lying about its existence -- because it compromised his ability to compete in the general election.

And, as part of a wider offensive against the evil Judy Baar-Topinkas and Corrine Woods of the world, Leubscher's business partner is the owner of the online-casinoesque ReaganReview.com, which purports to be the "hottest news source in Illinois politics." They also claim the entire staff is under 18, although its editor-in-chief, Krystle Russin, has an associates degree -- and a full photo catalogue of her different hairstyles, to boot -- which indicates she's probably at least 18. The site is registered to one Charles L. Johnston, who lives in the Metro East area. Several calls to Mr. Johnston regarding what exactly his involvement in ReaganReview.com is went un-answered.

NoLahood.com and ReaganReview.com are what happens when young people are exposed to the Illinois Leader, the internet's leading wack-a-doo Illinois conservative portal. It was the Leader that pretended it was going to sue John Kerry to unseal his divorce records; it is also on the Leader's message boards (the "Leader Boards" for you political junkies) that you can feast upon the latest crazy right-wing conspiracy theory or diatribe against feminazis, envirofascists, estate-taxites, and Abortion-On-Demanders.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not defending Ray LaHood or Judy Baar-Topinka or Corrine Wood. They're Republicans. Six of one, a half dozen of the other, as far as I'm concerned. Go to town, Bill Leubscher, Dave Syverson, whoever. But the fact of the matter is, Illinois hasn't gone Blue because of a lack of more conservative candidates -- quite the opposite. Illinois is a moderate state. It is precisely the radicalism of the national Republican Party that has hurt local and state Republican candidates in the collar counties, where the Republicans need to perform well -- if not outright win -- if they want to be competitive statewide. Consider that John Kerry, who according to the media anyway was as liberal as they come, lost both Lake and Will counties by a total of just 18,000 votes; and won nearly 45 percent of the vote in once-Republican stronghold DuPage County.

These rock-ribbed conservatives argue that it isn't necessarily a rightward shift they want, but more "party unity"; one of LaHood's big sins was that he didn't back Peter Fitzgerald enough, thus helping to discourage any run for reelection. Illinois Democrats, however, have always shown a willingness to work with Republicans -- William Lipinski, Michael Madigan and Richard M. Daley have all made careers of it. In the end, it has in some ways helped strengthen the Democrats, not weaken them. And, anyway, it was Dennis Hastert and Karl Rove, more than anybody else, who sank Fitzgerald, not poor Ray LaHood.

But -- and I must repeat -- none of this is in any way meant to discourage Mr. Leubscher and friends from their attempts to move their party rightward. By all means. It's your Party. Circular firing squad, commence!

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About the Author(s)

Ramsin Canon covers and works in politics in Chicago. If you have a tip, a borderline illegal leak, or a story that needs to be told, contact him at .

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