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Illinois Republicans to make case for Romney at convention — and themselves

Illinois State Treasurer Dan Rutherford participates rally Republican Day Illinois State Fair Thursday Aug. 16 2012 Springfield Ill. Republican leaders

Illinois State Treasurer Dan Rutherford participates in a rally on Republican Day at the Illinois State Fair Thursday, Aug. 16, 2012 in Springfield, Ill. Republican leaders hope frustration with Democratic management, illustrated by angry union protests during Governor’s Day at the state fair, indicate voters are ready to make a change. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

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Updated: September 27, 2012 11:30AM

Could state Treasurer Dan Rutherford use his chairmanship of Mitt Romney’s Illinois campaign as a launching pad to a 2014 run for governor?

Will state Sen. Kirk Dillard (R-Hinsdale), still stinging from his 193-vote loss in the 2010 gubernatorial primary, gain any steam as the GOP’s most viable choice for governor in two years?

And is it possible anyone will miss U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.), who wants to show everyone in his suburban congressional district and within Illinois’ GOP hierarchy how hard of a campaigner he is — by not showing up at the Republican National Convention?

Those are some of the politically intriguing subplots that may come into clearer focus when Illinois delegates and other party loyalists converge on Tampa for a three-day political retreat that ends Thursday with Romney’s coronation as the GOP’s presidential standard bearer.

Most members of the delegation, chaired by Rutherford, were scheduled to begin arriving for the convention on Sunday ahead of a tropical storm that could evolve into a full-blown hurricane and drench Tampa by Monday — a day that convention organizers canceled Sunday because of the storm.

Once everyone is in place, Illinois’ contingent, of course, will spend a lot of its time talking up Romney’s chances of making a respectable showing in President Barack Obama’s very blue home state. But the event also represents the unofficial launch of the GOP’s selection process to find someone capable of unseating a politically weakened Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn in two years.

The place to strut

Assuming no weather disruptions, the daily delegation get-togethers and late nights out will be the first place that most if not all of a half dozen or so gubernatorial hopefuls strut their stuff in front of the biggest Republican movers and shakers in the state.

Among those flirting with the idea of running for governor are Rutherford; Dillard; 2010 gubernatorial nominee state Sen. Bill Brady (R-Bloomington); state Sen. Matt Murphy (R-Palatine); state Sen. Dan Duffy (R-Lake Barrington), and venture capitalist Bruce Rauner, an investor in Wrapports LLC, the company that owns the Chicago Sun-Times.

Rutherford has dodged questions about whether he has decided on a 2014 run for the Executive Mansion, insisting the elections of Romney, legislative Republicans and county board members across Illinois are his first priorities.

But clearly, a Romney presidency could only mean good things for the first term state treasurer if his aim is to make a big jump up the political ladder, and Rutherford has done nothing to shut down talk of such a possibility.

“If Mitt Romney becomes president of the United States, America will be a better place, and I will have a friend in the White House,” Rutherford told the Sun-Times.

Asked whether he has talked to Romney about running for governor or if Romney has brought up the possibility to him, Rutherford has a coy answer that ties to the two men shuttling around together in Chicago.

“Let’s just say there are times when we’re in the Suburban, the doors are closed . . . and it’s not being taped. The governor and I have had many a conversation about many a thing.”

U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.), who also figures to be in high-visibility mode with the Illinois delegation, has strong Romney ties, too, having campaigned with him and the presidential hopeful’s wife, Ann, for seven days in Iowa and Illinois. Schock also is a steady, early morning workout partner with Romney’s running mate, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).

Schock is a top-tier possibility for governor in 2014, but others in the party also see him as a strong GOP possibility against U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) or an heir apparent to U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) if Kirk opts against a second term or doesn’t complete his first term because of lingering effects from his stroke.

Unlike four years ago when Republicans met in Minneapolis, Schock doesn’t have a convention floor speech. But he’s going to take on “surrogate duties” as a party mouthpiece during panels with former presidential candidate Newt Gingrich and George P. Bush, son of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush — and appear frequently alongside Ryan, Schock spokesman Steve Dutton said.

“Aaron will be at many events with Paul Ryan and have the chance to introduce him to many Illinoisans attending the convention,” Dutton said.

As to Schock’s future plans — staying in Congress, running for governor or aiming for U.S. Senate — Dutton was tightlipped.

“His focus is on the elections this November,” he said.

Not even a delegate

Dillard, meanwhile, said he plans to be in Tampa from Sunday through early Thursday despite not being a delegate. While he hasn’t committed to running again for governor, the veteran DuPage County lawmaker has made clear that he’s eyeing another run closely after his heartbreaking primary loss in 2010 to Brady, who also is studying another run.

“I can accomplish months worth of work in four or five days at the national convention because I don’t have to travel hours to see and to discuss politics with people in this enormously diverse state,” Dillard said.

“I don’t think any particular candidate for the United States Senate seat or governor’s seat is going to gain an advantage by going to the national convention. But it’s important,” Dillard said Friday.

Not everyone agrees with that assessment of the convention’s potential political advantage. In fact, one Illinois Republican — like the looming storm churning off the Florida coastline — isn’t bashful about raining on the party’s parade in Tampa.

Congressman Walsh, engaged in a tough re-election battle against Democrat Tammy Duckworth, isn’t making the effort to go to Tampa and instead is choosing to stay in his north and northwest suburban 8th Congressional District to campaign.

“Congressman Walsh promised to be the most accessible member of Congress, and that’s why he’s had over 200 town halls,” said Justin Roth, his chief of staff. “Trying to get him out of the district is nearly impossible. If he’s not in Washington D.C., he’s in the district.

“The last thing he wants to do in August . . . is spend time in Tampa hobnobbing with party leadership. To be honest, it’s probably the last thing on his mind,” Roth continued. “He can accomplish absolutely nothing going to the convention. There’s no value to a congressman serving his constituents to be in Tampa.”

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