Would popular local legislator play well across Illinois?Is Alan Keyes muling a run as well?
Wednesday, January 12, 2005
By MOLLY PARKER
of the Journal Star
PEORIA - Though U.S. Rep. Ray LaHood is widely popular in his expansive central Illinois district, how he would play in the rest of the state is the question he hopes to answer as he explores whether to run for governor in 2006.
"That's the reason I'm taking the approach that I'm taking," LaHood said Tuesday. "There are a lot of people that don't know me. They may have heard of me or talked to someone that knows me, but that's why I'm going to get out there and beat the bushes."
LaHood said he will decide by summer whether to seek the state's top spot, a feat that first would require him to gain the support of Republican voters statewide in what is expected to be a contentions GOP primary.
If successful, LaHood would be the first Peorian to become governor since statehood.
Over the years, LaHood has captured the spotlight outside his district, including recently for several stances at odds with other Republican leaders.
During the recent election, a critical comment he made to a Capitol Hill publication about Republican colleague Phil Crane of Wauconda - regarding him spending insufficient time in his district - made its way into campaign literature in favor of Crane's opponent.
After the campaign flier hit, LaHood chastised Democrat Melissa Bean for taking his words out of context and drove to Crane's northern Illinois district with a team of local Republicans to aid his struggling colleague's campaign.
Bean went on to unseat the long-serving Crane in a heavily GOP district, though Crane suffered from his own foibles.
Also during the election season - in that same Capitol Hill newspaper - LaHood was quoted regarding his opinion of then-Senate candidate Jack Ryan's decision to follow his Democratic opponent around with a video camera.
LaHood was one of the more vocal Republicans in calling for Ryan to quit his campaign after a judge ordered the unsealing of divorce records that contained embarrassing sex club allegations. When Ryan eventually stepped down and ultra-conservative Alan Keyes was nominated to replace him, LaHood largely kept quiet but stuck up for him when asked to, even as Keyes' campaign plummeted.
In recent years, LaHood was outspoken about his dislike for recently retired Sen. Peter Fitzgerald, R-Ill. The feeling was apparently mutual, as Fitzgerald barked at LaHood during the campaign season, saying, "Ray clearly feels that he has no faults and no sins, and that's why he appears to delight so much in throwing stones at other Republicans."
LaHood said previously that Fitzgerald was not a team player for issues important to Illinois, a feeling that other Republican leaders have echoed.
LaHood brushed off the notion that any of these incidents could hurt his chances of bridging relationships with key Illinois Republicans, whose support could be essential to winning a primary.
He called the Crane incident "water over the dam" and said he "doesn't think most people will even think about" his contentious relationship with Fitzgerald. As for his comments about Jack Ryan, LaHood said, "These people made their own decision about whether to run for public office, and they made their own decisions on those matters."
Though LaHood is likely to face these and other issues as he explores a gubernatorial run, he expects that Illinoisans will "recognize the leadership role that I play, not only in the state party, but nationally."
LaHood said testing the waters will include attending Lincoln Day dinners across the state, typical Republican pep rallies in which candidates often float intentions to run for offices and gauge reaction. He recently has been critical of Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who he expects will mount a Democratic challenge.
In an interview in late December, LaHood said it is difficult for an ultra-conservative candidate to win statewide and that the party needs someone "smart and open minded."
LaHood tends to the right on many social issues, opposing gay marriage and abortion except to save a mother's life, even in cases of rape and incest.
LaHood said he contacted all of his Republican colleagues in the U.S. House last week about exploring a run. "Some of them said they would support me, and some of them said good luck."
LaHood refused to say which congressman fell into what category, except for House Speaker Dennis Hastert, who LaHood said told him "he would give me his good luck."
"He wants me to get back to him and let him know what I find out," LaHood said about Hastert, who has long been his friend and political ally.
He also contacted all the county Republican chairmen in his district, adding that "almost all of them were very excited about the possibility."
LaHood said his interest in seeking the governor's post has nothing to do with hopes of one day finding his way onto the national ticket.
"I'm 59 years old," LaHood said. "I like the job I have. It's a good job, but I've been encouraged by many people to run. I think the state's a mess, and people have asked me to take a look at this. That's the reason I want to do it."
Wednesday, January 12, 2005
Will Lahood play in Peoria?
Another PJStar article on the subject.