Art Turner stays extra busy with oil changes. Kirk Dillard and Mark Kirk tout their college stints and family ties to central Illinois. David Miller uses friendships in the legislature to get a more personal tour of the state. They're all among a large group of politicians who are eyeing higher office in 2010, yet are newcomers on the statewide scene. That means getting to know the wide expanses of Illinois, from Chicagoland's urban settings to the cornfields and rolling hills in the deep south.
Art Turner stays extra busy with oil changes. Kirk Dillard and Mark Kirk tout their college stints and family ties to central Illinois. David Miller uses friendships in the legislature to get a more personal tour of the state.
They're all among a large group of politicians who are eyeing higher office in 2010, yet are newcomers on the statewide scene. That means getting to know the wide expanses of Illinois, from Chicagoland's urban settings to the cornfields and rolling hills in the deep south.
The candidates promise they're running for all of Illinois – not just the high concentration of votes in the Chicago area – and will show it on the campaign trail for the next few months. They used appearances at the Illinois State Fair last week as part of their broader appeal for support.
Downstate officials expect the candidates in both parties to live up to those promises.
"I think they're going to go up and down this state to try to get everybody on their side," said Billy Halstead, chairman of the Peoria County Democrats.
Candidates for statewide office face two major challenges: time and money.
Next year's primary elections will be in early February, rather than the mid-March of the past. That shaves about six weeks off the time candidates have to meet voters, travel the state and build support.
"I don't know that you can cover all that ground, but you can certainly try," said House Minority Leader Tom Cross, R-Oswego. "You've got a lot of work to do in a short amount of time, but it's doable."
Raising money for advertising is always a challenge, especially in races such as for governor where there's a crowded field.
Downstaters say both those variables make it important for candidates to take their areas seriously because that can separate candidates whose vote totals are close up north.
Downstate support helped carry Glenn Poshard in 1998 and Rod Blagojevich in 2002 to gubernatorial primary wins.
"If there's a crowded field, I think the role that downstate voters are going to play in a primary is monumental, and I hope that the candidates realize that," said Sen. John Sullivan, D-Rushville.
Top races crowded
On the Democratic side for governor, both Gov. Pat Quinn and Comptroller Dan Hynes know how to win statewide. Both say they'll frequently travel outside the Chicago area, and the duties in their offices will give them the venue to do that.
"I'm going to work as hard as I can for the next six months, get to as many places as possible, introduce myself to as many people and I'll believe we'll win on Election Day," Hynes said.
The challenge is greater for the Republicans running for governor. Only state Sen. Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, has run statewide in losing for governor in 2006. Several come from the Chicago suburbs and are untested outside that area.
Dillard, a Hinsdale Republican state senator, says he's the leading candidate because of his downstate credentials. He worked for former Gov. Jim Edgar, the last downstate governor, went to school at Western Illinois University and has family ties in central Illinois.
"I don't forget any county," Dillard said. "I'm not a regional candidate like the rest of them, and I'll be everywhere."
Sen. Matt Murphy, R-Palatine, says he's traveling the state with a message that resonates everywhere. Creating jobs and revitalizing the party are his themes.
"We've all got the same challenge of establishing ourselves statewide. And I think we all have an opportunity to improve the brand and reintroduce people to a vigorous and principled Republican Party," Murphy said.
In the race for U.S. Senate, Democratic frontrunner and state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias could have an edge statewide over the Republican frontrunner U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk, making his first run outside Chicago's suburbs.
Kirk is spending several weeks this month in central and southern Illinois. He plans to use connections with downstate GOP congressmen John Shimkus and Aaron Schock to meet voters and craft the right message.
He's also stressing he knows central Illinois: born in Champaign, lived for a while near Springfield growing up and has family throughout central Illinois.
"I've got to reintroduce myself," Kirk said. "Making sure that we renew all those relationships is what this campaign is all about."
Candidates in other statewide races such as lieutenant governor and comptroller face an even bigger challenge of covering ground for seats where there's less attention.
Turner, a Chicago Democrat and one of several running for his party's lieutenant governor nomination, has been busy racking up the miles on his vehicle hitting all parts of Illinois.
"I've been changing the oil every two weeks. In fact, this Sunday, I decided to do it myself. I couldn't wait for the Jiffy Lube to open," Turner said.
Judy Baar Topinka, a suburban Republican who won three times as treasurer before losing to Blagojevich for governor in 2006, could tap into that name recognition if she goes through with a run for comptroller.
"I'm going to campaign the way I always campaign, which is hard and heavy," Topinka said. "You'll never find a better bunch of people than in southern, western and central Illinois."
Miller, a Lynwood Democratic state representative, says he's taken up other House Democrats on invitations to come to central and southern Illinois as he looks at a comptroller run.
"The truth of the matter is you don't want to ignore anything or anybody because these races are very, very difficult. We are taking nothing for granted," Miller said.
Raja Krishnamoorthi, also running for comptroller as a Democrat, points out he now lives in the Chicago suburbs but grew up in Peoria. He hopes to build the backing to run a strong campaign statewide.
"At the end of the day, people aren't going to vote for you if they don't know who you are," Krishnamoorthi said.
Downstate also will be part of the parties' game plan beyond the primary.
Rep. Mike Boland, an East Moline Democrat who wants to be lieutenant governor, says Democrats are taking risks if their ticket is too Chicago-centric compared to Republicans.
"Their strategy will be to roll up big margins downstate, capture the suburbs and win these high offices, especially governor and lieutenant governor. If we have a downstater on the ticket, it blunts that," Boland said.
Adriana Colindres contributed to this report. Ryan Keith can be reached at (217) 788-1518 or email@example.com.