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GOP gov hopefuls staking out big-tent strategy with running mates

WheatCity Councilwoman Evelyn Sanguinetti  speaks news conference after being introduced as Illinois Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner's lieutenant governor

Wheaton City Councilwoman Evelyn Sanguinetti speaks at a news conference after being introduced as Illinois Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner's lieutenant governor pick Tuesday in Chicago. | M. Spencer Green~AP

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Updated: November 10, 2013 6:38AM

Judging by their running-mate picks, the four Illinois Republican candidates for governor recognize their party needs an image makeover.

While there are four white males competing in the Republican primary, each has chosen either a woman or a minority as his choice for lieutenant governor in the GOP quest to take control of the governor’s mansion.

The reason?

To try to appeal to more than just white males.

On Tuesday, candidate Bruce Rauner was the latest, tapping Evelyn Sanguinetti — a Spanish-speaking Wheaton city councilwoman, first generation citizen who says she’s pro-life because her Cuban-born mother was just 15 when she made the decision to have her.

No doubt, Sanguinetti, whose father immigrated to the United States from Ecuador, is able to weave a different tale — even in another language — than her gubernatorial running mate, a wealthy venture capitalist.

Republicans nationally are aware they suffer from an image problem, namely that their proverbial tent is too small. In last year’s general election, Democrats won the majority of women and minority voters — particularly Hispanics and African Americans.

The trends were no different in Illinois, said Dick Simpson, professor of political science at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

“There is no fundamental difference,” Simpson said. “They’re seen as a white-only party. They’ve been losing the women’s vote in Illinois just like in the nation. They’ve particularly lost the Latino vote. The women’s vote has been going to the Democrats for some time.”

Democratic incumbent Gov. Pat Quinn, also a white male, doesn’t necessarily have to choose a minority or woman because he doesn’t suffer from a similar image problem, says Simpson.

“It’s not in doubt what his positions are or his party’s positions are when it comes to minority voters and women’s issues,” he said.

In a blue state such as Illinois, diversifying a ticket seems like a natural step for the GOP to reach more voters.

“It helps, but not enough to swing an election,” Simpson said, although he admits how much influence a lieutenant governor will have on this race remains an unknown.

The 2014 gubernatorial election will be the state’s first test of a candidate choosing a running mate during the primary. Previously, each party’s gubernatorial and lieutenant governor candidates were nominated separately in the primary, and then they ran as a team in the general election.

So now, for the first time under the new law, the two run as a true team, with the lieutenant governor acting as the candidate’s surrogate at events throughout the entire campaign.

In Sanguinetti, Rauner is getting someone who can articulate his positions from a different perspective.

On Tuesday, the 42-year-old attorney was able to tell a story about her family once relying on government assistance. She also vouches for Rauner as: “the only one who doesn’t owe anyone anything. He is completely independent.”

Beyond her Wheaton public service, Sanguinetti once served as an attorney with the Illinois Attorney General’s office under Jim Ryan.

Illinois Treasurer Dan Rutherford of Chenoa selected Northbrook attorney Steve Kim, a Korean-American, as his running mate. Kim would be the first Asian-American to serve in statewide office.

State Sen. Bill Brady (R-Bloomington) chose former Long Grove Village President Maria Rodriguez, whose husband is part Cuban.

State Sen. Kirk Dillard (R-Hinsdale) chose state Rep. Jil Tracy of Downstate Quincy.

“I think the most important thing is that they’re good candidates,” said Illinois GOP Party Chair Jack Dorgan. “They all come from different walks of life. I think it shows that the Republican party has a great deal of balance.”

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