AUG 21, 2023
Donald Trump hangs over State Fair’s political days as parties set 2024 agendas
A video screen at the Illinois Democratic County Chairs Association brunch shows a clip of news of an indictment against former President Donald Trump. [Ben Szalinski/The Daily Line]
The presidential candidates hang out at the Iowa State Fair, leaving Illinois politicians to bask in their own spotlight during the Illinois State Fair’s political days. But as former President Donald Trump campaigns in Iowa, he was still the talk of the Illinois State Fair’s political days as Democrats rally support against him and many Illinois Republicans wished to ignore him.
Illinois politicians gathered at the State Fair on Wednesday and Thursday to kick off the 2024 campaign season. Democrats looked head to the presidential race that could feature a rematch of Trump versus President Joe Biden while Republicans focused on reevaluating their campaign strategy to win more local races in Illinois. But Republicans couldn’t avoid facing questions about Trump continuing to serve as the face of the party despite accumulating baggage.
“I’m always so curious why is it always about Donald Trump,” House Minority Leader Tony McCombie (R-Savanna) said in response to a question about Trump. “Here we are today in Illinois, let’s talk about Illinois.”
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Republican officials didn’t mention Trump, who was indicted for the fourth time just days before the fair’s political days, during their events on Thursday unless they were asked about him by reporters.
But on Democrats’ day at the fair Wednesday, the state’s leaders were quick to remind members of their party how the Republican Party has embraced Trump, even after multiple indictments. At their annual County Chairs Association brunch, Democrats played a video chronicling Trump’s mounting legal troubles.
“Republicans supported the insurrection and claimed it was an act of patriotism,” Pritzker said. “They falsely claim that they are the party of law and order while celebrating a four-time indicted presidential candidate.”
Republicans have had little to no electoral success since Trump ran in 2016. Pritzker and other Democrats easily won statewide offices in 2018 during the “blue wave.” Trump lost Illinois by 17 points in 2020 and Pritzker and other Democrats again won easy victories in statewide elections in 2022.
Republicans nominating Trump to be their nominee for a third straight election would motivate Democrats in 2024, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) told reporters.
“A great deal depends on the Republican nominee, if it turns out to be Trump, trust me, we’ll be fired up and ready to go,” Durbin said.
Illinois Democratic County Chairs Association Chair Kristina Zahorick said the theme of next year’s election is the same as 2020’s.
“When we ousted the cult leader and elected the adults, President Joe Biden, he said that this election was about the soul of our nation and he was right,” Zahorick said. “And as we look toward 2024, it is still about the soul of our nation.”
At Republican Day, the state’s top Republicans steered the conversation away from Trump.
“I have concerns anytime we’re not talking Illinois issues with those we represent,” Senate Minority Leader John Curran (R-Downers Grove) said. “If we’re talking just national, we don’t want to skip over Illinois because Illinois has been out of balance and that is where we really want to drive the conversation.”
Some Republicans were more lenient to discussing Trump. Darren Bailey, 2022’s failed Republican candidate for governor, said he is seeking Trump’s endorsement in his race for Congress next year, calling Trump a “smart man” and condemning the criminal investigations of Trump as something that “should be illegal.”
U.S. Rep. Darin LaHood (R-Ill.), who has been a Trump supporter during his career, said he “doesn’t believe in the unequal application of the law,” an allusion to a Republican belief that Trump is treated differently be federal prosecutors than Biden’s son, Hunter Biden.
Illinois Republicans are hoping to pick up new seats in Congress next year as well as make a dent into Democrats’ super majority in the General Assembly. Republican officials faced questions on whether Trump’s indictments and his potential presence on the ballot in November 2024 could hurt Republican candidates down the ballot.
“That remains to be seen,” Illinois Republican Party Chair Don Tracy told reporters.
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