By PETER HANCOCK
Capitol News Illinois
SPRINGFIELD – Illinois Republicans suffered big losses in the 2018 elections, giving up seven House seats and handing a 74-44 supermajority to Democrats.
Now it’s up to state Rep. Tony McCombie (R-Savanna) to try and turn things around, and she has no illusions about how big of a task that will be.
“Huge. A huge task,” she said in an interview Thursday.
McCombie’s colleagues this week unanimously elected her to chair the House Republican Organization, the political arm of the caucus that works, and raises money, to elect Republicans to the House.
“The goal is to provide political services to the 44 members we have and to grow our members so we can, one, bring balance to Illinois, and, two, hopefully to gain additional seats to gain the majority and put Leader (Jim) Durkin in the speaker’s seat,” McCombie said.
McCombie attributed her party’s losses in 2018 to a number of factors, including money and the fact that the Democratic candidate for governor, J.B. Pritzker, had a sophisticated operation. But she also said there were national trends working against Illinois Republicans, including President Donald Trump’s unpopularity in the state.
“The message right now on the federal side certainly, I think, hurt Republicans in the suburbs,” she said.
McCombie is the first woman to hold the chairmanship, and that could be important in 2020 because that’s the voting population where the GOP has been losing support, particularly in suburban areas, both in Illinois and nationally.
But McCombie said she doesn’t necessarily think it’s her job to recruit female voters back to the party.
“I don’t think I was chosen to bring women into the fold because women don’t tell women what to do,” she said. “But I think it’s certainly necessary to have more women in leadership positions so they can have more open conversations. Because that’s one thing that women do better. They will sit down at the table and have a conversation.”
McCombie said it will take hard work to reverse the GOP’s fortunes in the state, but she said she’s optimistic about the party’s chances.
“We need to rely on work, and we need to rely on our message,” she said. “If this is about policy, we’re going to win every time."