Preview To Primary In Illinois

The Illinois Republican primary isn't normally a closely-watched race, but this year it's a different story. Fifty-four delegates are up for grabs in the Land of Lincoln on Tuesday. Robert Siegel talks with Peter Roskam, R-Illinois, about the upcoming vote.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And with Illinois coming up on the GOP primary calendar, we're joined by Representative Peter Roskam. He's a member of the House Republican leadership. He's chief deputy whip, and he is from the 6th Congressional District of Illinois, which includes the North and West suburbs of Chicago.

Welcome to the program.

REPRESENTATIVE PETER ROSKAM: Thanks, Robert.

SIEGEL: We should say that you have not endorsed a candidate in the primary.

ROSKAM: I haven't.

SIEGEL: Why not?

ROSKAM: Well, I've been working hard to represent my district and working with other members in terms of passing legislation. And my view is let's see who that person is that can come out on top, and it's open-field running, and Illinois is now surprised and delighted to find itself significant in this whole adventure.

SIEGEL: Now, this is rare. We should say, though, that your leader, Eric Cantor, the majority leader, was not deterred. He endorsed Governor Romney right before the Virginia primary.

ROSKAM: Yeah. I think everybody's got a different take on how to approach things. And that's the great thing about primaries, they're just, you know, jump in the water's fine.

SIEGEL: I want to ask you about Illinois and Republicans in your state. We used to always think of Illinois as having a Midwestern, centrist, or relatively moderate Republican Party. Is that still the case, or has the GOP in your state become more conservative over the years?

ROSKAM: Look, I think it goes in bits and spurts. There's a strong conservative base within the Republican Party that is reflected to what you see in a lot of other national campaigns. But I think what most folks that I'm talking to are interested, first and foremost, is to have a candidate that can draw a stark contrast to President Obama; particularly on the spending side of things, the economic side of things, the energy issues.

And so they are vetting these candidates who have pretty much the same view of the world, by and large. They're all campaigning as conservative folks in this primary. But they're trying to vet through and say, who is the best candidate that can emerge to draw the contrast with President Obama?

SIEGEL: As a member of the leadership, we'd consider you an establishment Republican at this point. And the establishment of the party seems to favor Mitt Romney. Would it hurt him at this point for more people high in the leadership to come out and endorse him in Illinois?

ROSKAM: Look, I think Mitt Romney has got plenty of support from the top of the party. I think his big challenge is closing now and giving a level of confidence to grassroots folks that are looking for him to be clear and draw a stark contrast with President Obama in the fall. And that's what I think ultimately this vetting process is all about, in going from different states and different strategies.

And I think Illinois, personally - I mean, I'm a home state kid, but I think Illinois is a real microcosm of the United States in this way. You've got a huge metropolitan area in Chicago with - has run around it large suburban areas and big exurbs but a very significant, quote, "downstate, rural population." That's all, I think, a general reflection of the way the country looks. And a candidate that competes well here next Tuesday, I think, is going to have a disproportionate amount of energy coming out of a win in Illinois.

SIEGEL: When you say the challenge is for him to close that deal, the assumption is that this is still, in effect, Governor Romney's race to lose here.

ROSKAM: It feels like that. I mean, I think the trend is, in terms of delegates counts and other sorts of momentum stories, that it is Governor Romney's to lose. And this is strictly anecdotal. Just by talking with folks around me, they're leaning towards supporting Governor Romney on Tuesday.

But look, Newt Gingrich came in to the northwest suburbs. Rick Santorum is coming into the western suburbs. Governor Romney has changed his schedule now to come in. And they recognize that Illinois is a lot more significant than they originally thought.

SIEGEL: Peter Roskam, thank you very much for talking with us.

ROSKAM: Thanks, Robert.

SIEGEL: There's Representative Peter Roskam, Republican of Illinois, who's the chief deputy whip of the Republicans in the House of Representatives.

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