STEVE INSKEEP, host:
The loss of one man's political capital may create an opportunity for the Republican Party. That party is thoroughly out of power in the state of Illinois, but they see a chance to recover in the scandal surrounding Democratic Governor Rod Blagojevich. NPR's Cheryl Corley reports.
CHERYL CORLEY: Shortly after Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich was arrested for allegedly scheming to sell the state's vacant senate seat, formally held by Barack Obama, to the highest bidder. Illinois Republicans started running an ad on cable television.
(Soundbite of Illinois Republican's ad)
Unidentified Announcer: Rod Blagojevich embarrassed Illinois.
CORLEY: Republicans are urging voters to call state law makers to push for a special election to fill the vacant senate seat.
(Soundbite of Illinois Republican's ad)
Unidentified Announcer: You deserve to be heard. You deserve a special election.
CORLEY: Before the Blagojevich scandal, any chance of a Republican capturing the vacated seat was a long shot since it was up to Democrat Rod Blagojevich to appoint someone to it. As calls for the governor to resign grew, Democrats backed a special election, but decided against it saying, among other things, that it would be too costly. That set off a howl from angry Illinois Senate Republicans Christine Radogno and Matt Murphy.
Senator CHRISTINE RADOGNO (Republican, Illinois): Whoever gets appointed, is going be wearing the stench of this scandal for the next two years and beyond.
Senator MATT MURPHY (Republican, Illinois): What the Democrat leadership of this state is saying is, we won't risk losing that senate seat, just in the interests of good government, and showing the people of the state of Illinois we intend to do better.
CORLEY: Republicans have only held a U.S. senate seat in Illinois once since the mid-1980, and that was only for one term. Paul Green, a political scientist at Roosevelt University, says the chance for a special election had given the state's Republicans a glimmer of hope.
Professor PAUL GREEN (Political Scientist, Roosevelt University): And the Republicans need to win one. Fourteen years ago, they held every state constitutional office. Now they hold none.
CORLEY: So as members of the Illinois House consider impeaching Democrat Rod Blagojevich, Republicans seek a road back to competitiveness. And if it's not the U.S. senate seat, there's always the governor's race in 2010. Andy McKenna, the head of the Illinois Republican Party, says the Blagojevich scandal has made Democrats vulnerable.
Mr. ANDY MCKENNA (Chairman, Illinois Republican Party): Everyone in his leadership group stood by him in the 2006 election and said he was honest, when it's quite clear now, that was not the case. At a time when election was occurring, they could have supported another Democrat for governor who was running, who did not have any of the issues, didn't have any of the federal investigations like this governor did. And I just think that there's a problem with trust.
CORLEY: But Republicans were embroiled in their own scandal not so long ago, when the state's previous governor, Republican George Ryan, decided not to seek a second term. He was convicted on corruption charges after leaving office and is now serving a prison term.
Democrat Rod Blagojevich became governor, ending 26 years of Republican rule. Illinois GOP chief McKenna says it was right for voters to oust Republicans then, and now it's time for Democrats to suffer voters' wrath.
Mr. MCKENNA: And I think that voters are going to hold individuals accountable, and kind of where that leads all these elections we'll see. But I know the two big issues known are ethics and fiscal reforms, and that's what we're going to talk about, and we're going to try to field candidates that can earn voters trust.
CORLEY: Democrat Barbara Flynn Currie, the chairwoman of the panel considering impeaching the governor, says yes, Democrats do control Illinois government. And yes, Governor Blagojevich was arrested, and faces daunting legal problems.
Representative BARBARA FLYNN CURRIE (Democrat, Illinois): But I don't think that that in anyway taints the lieutenant governor, the attorney general, the comptroller, any of the other executive officers, nor members of the legislature.
CORLEY: Professor Paul Green says that Republicans have disagreed over the candidates who should represent them as they seek to regain power in this moderate state. There's a rift, says Green, between pro-business, less-government Republicans and social conservatives who want the party's candidates to oppose abortion and gay marriage.
Professor GREEN: And they would rather lose with one of their own, than win with somebody who they don't agree with. They use this phrase, these social conservatives, called RINOs - Republican in name only. And I call those Republicans who do that, RAWs - Republicans against winning.
CORLEY: However, Illinois Republican chief Andy McKenna says, Republicans have learned from their own fiasco a few years ago, and this latest scandal with the state's Democratic governor, has given Illinois Republicans a new focus. Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chicago.
INSKEEP: It's Morning Edition from NPR News.
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