By Kerry Lester
Congressman Peter Roskam took the stage at last week's Conservative Political Action Conference in Rosemont and outlined before the nation's top Republicans why Illinois -- which he called a bankrupt state with heavy-handed unions -- is a "perfect example" of Democrats' failures in leadership.
"Illinois plays a pivotal role in Nancy Pelosi's drive to become speaker of the House again," Roskam said, predicting that Republicans would "overperform" in November "because on a large part a state has been miserably run by one party for a long time."
Using local issues to illustrate a larger Republican national agenda, the fourth-highest ranking Republican in the U.S. House simultaneously alluded to his own unique role to play in the months ahead.
As Republican Sen. Mark Kirk of Highland Park continues to recover from a stroke, Roskam is the most powerful active Republican member of Congress from Illinois. The Wheaton resident must guide and help other Republicans in the Illinois delegation in their election bids as part of a larger effort to keep the Republican majority in the U.S. House come November. That includes lining up campaign help and using his fundraising muscle and understanding of the suburbs to help in some of the nation's most-watched races, including Tea Partyer Joe Walsh of McHenry in his bid against Democrat Tammy Duckworth of Hoffman Estates, an opponent of Roskam's just six years ago.
That race is "very winnable," Roskam believes, though he notes Walsh and Republicans must act strategically to take the newly drawn 8th Congressional District, which includes roughly half of Roskam's current DuPage County territory.
Roskam outlined that vision in an interview preceding his talk Friday at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Rosemont. Here is an edited transcript.
On Illinois' role:
Illinois Democrats are going to be basically the way Pennsylvania Republicans were 10 years ago. They've created a political map that I think they've overreached.
They're underestimating the caliber of our Republican candidates, who are sharp and very competitive.
Democrats have the backdrop of abject failure in Springfield. Contrasting what's going on with Wisconsin and Indiana -- well-governed states that have dealt forthrightly with problems -- that's such a stark contrast that I think it creates an opportunity for Illinois House Republicans to overperform.
The House perspective:
As Romney emerges more onto the center stage, the House will not be the center stage anymore. And we're ready for that handoff.
In (the congressional race against Duckworth) in 2006, we were able to come out on top, in part because everybody helped. I was the beneficiary of everybody coming over the hilltop saying, "This is an important race.' It made all the difference in the world.To the extent I can help replicate that with others, communicating how competitive these seats are, how much they matter, I have very much an Illinois focus. The ability to bring resources and ground game effort to my colleagues is important.
As Kirk recovers from a stroke:
I think there's a recognition that while he's recuperating ... it's a good thing that we have a delegation that has a lot of depth. Kirk is the leader of our delegation, and that's his role, but to the extent that he's not able to play that role for this period of time then other people are willing to step in and try to assume some of that responsibility. But we miss him.
On Walsh vs. Duckworth:
For Walsh, it's very winnable. This is a district that is very disappointed in the direction that President Obama has led on the economy. It's predisposed (people) to like him on a personal level.
Now, the job market for them is brutal. I think the 8th District is very winnable with a referendum on those key economic questions.
Advice for Walsh:
Look, everyone has their own style. People are looking more than anything for authenticity. They want someone that tells you how they look at the world, acts consistently with how they look at the world, and is forthright. And I think that's Joe Walsh, right? I've been in and around him during a lot of events lately. I think that to the extent that he focuses in on making this a referendum on President Obama's stewardship of the economy, the direction Congress was going before he arrived and the direction Congress is going now, those are winning themes. It's not a slam dunk for either party, by any means.
On campaign costs and super PACs:
I think everything's going to be more expensive. Now you have the advent of all of these other political organizations that can weigh in. That's a whole new equation. I think you're going to see a lot spent in this race all the way around.
Roskam's future ambitions:
I enjoy the House and my current thinking is to stay in the House. There's plenty of work to do in the House. It's an invigorating place to serve. My predecessor (Congressman Phil Crane) served for 32 years in the House. You do have to earn the right to be heard. It takes time. There's a perspective that I can offer, coming from an area where the districts are more competitive than other voices at the leadership table that are coming from very, very safe Republican seats.