As the 2012 presidential elections draw near, Republican hopefuls continue to garner media attention as President Barack Obama has begun his re-election campaign.
Obama announced his intention to run for re-election April 4, giving him the opportunity to start fundraising and organizing his campaign months ahead of other presidential contenders. Obama, in fact, visited Chicago last month to begin his fundraising and campaign efforts. However, representatives of local GOP groups aren’t too concerned that Democrats may pull ahead.
Aware that the majority of Evanston residents and Northwestern students are Democratic, representatives of local Republican groups are convinced that mobilizing grassroots support is just an uphill battle that could be won strategically.
Blair Garber, Evanston resident and Evanston Republican Organization member, said he’s not at all worried that Republican candidates haven’t stepped up to challenge Obama. As is often the case with the challenging party, candidates won’t rush to throw in their bids so early, he said.
“We’re going to go through the primary process and our candidates are going to sort themselves out,” Garber said. “We don’t have an incumbent so there isn’t someone who’s naturally in the lead.”
Front-running GOP hopefuls include Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin, Donald Trump, Michele Bachmann, Tim Pawlenty and Rick Santorum. Though they have appealed to voters nationwide at public forums, stirred up media attention and are likely to make a formal bid for the ballot, none have officially done so.
Richard O’Dwyer, president of the Republican Club of Evanston, said because Illinois is one of the later primary states and also unlikely to go Republican, it might not get as much attention from GOP presidential hopefuls very early in the election season.
“At the local level at this point in the primary season, the candidates themselves are trying to build a network of people to support them, so sometimes you’ll get emails,” O’Dwyer said. “But Cook County is still going to be pretty formidable for Obama because it’s his home turf and Rahm Emanuel is mayor.”
However, O’Dwyer said as it gets closer to the start of primaries in February, the Republican Club of Evanston will likely hold frequent meetings and luncheons to which he will invite keynote speakers as well as experts on hot political issues like Social Security and health care as well.
“Republicans in Illinois are going to be important on the national scene,” he said. “We have lots of intellectuals, people with money who will donate and really strong representatives and congressmen in Washington right now. As far as Evanston goes, it’s still pretty early.”
O’Dwyer remains hopeful that independents in Evanston are going to be looking for an alternative to Democratic rule. Garber said any effort to mobilize local Republican groups will the product of a coalition of GOP groups on the North Shore.
“We’ll probably start building a coalition in Evanston with the Republican Club of Evanston, the Tea Partymovement and other groups in the area that overlap,” he said.
Although Evanston was founded by Republicans and was a largely Republican town up until the late ‘60s, Garber said, political action in the area today is mostly dominated by U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.).
“It’s pretty much a Democratic machine,” Garber said. “University faculty members are hardcore leftists. University students aren’t exactly hotbeds of conservative thought. The Democrats set up a great machine and it works.”
Looking on the bright side, Garber said that not having an evident party leader at the beginning of election season would actually make the process more democratic for Republicans than Democrats. More contenders on the GOP side mean more accountability, he said.
“We get to listen to these guys and choose the best one,” Garber said. “This is the meat of democracy. I don’t know what the future is going to bring, but we’re working on it.”