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Illinois GOP says budget, economy key issues

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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Republicans rallying Thursday at the Illinois State Fair hammered Democrats over their handling of the state budget and national economy, predicting angry voters are ready to support Republican candidates in 2012.

"We have the right message: Fiscal responsibility, no more borrowing," Christine Radogno, minority leader in the state Senate, told the crowd. "We have an electorate that has been shocked into awareness by the horrible mismanagement of the Democrats."

That largely matches what Illinois Republicans have stressed for years with limited success at the ballot box.

In the past five elections, Republicans often accused Democrats of taxing and spending too much but won only four of 19 statewide elections. Last year, voters gave Democrat Pat Quinn a full term as governor despite his strong support for raising taxes.

Still, Republican leaders said things have changed.

Quinn succeeded in passing a 67 percent income tax increase, which they believe will galvanize voter anger. Despite the increase, the state budget remains deep in the red. Other states are trying to poach Illinois business, and while unemployment is dropping, it remains high. Meanwhile, the national economy has continued to sputter under Democratic President Barack Obama and gridlock in Washington triggered a downgrade of the nation's credit rating.

"While Republicans always carry the fiscal message, I think the dire condition of Illinois and American finances have finally hit home," said state Sen. Kirk Dillard, R-Hinsdale. "A message that should have worked all the time for Republicans is definitely going to work in 2012."

None of Illinois' statewide offices are on the ballot in 2012. Republicans hope to chip away at the Democratic majority in the state legislature and protect the congressional seats they picked up in 2010.

State Republican Chairman Pat Brady said the party plans a presidential straw poll Nov. 2, one year before the election. He said places to vote will be set up in all 102 counties, and people will be charged $5 each to participate. Brady said the event will raise some money for the party but, more importantly, could help Republicans organize for the March primary election.

Republicans offered few details about how they would run things differently if put in charge of Springfield.

They criticized Quinn for not paying down a $4 billion pile of overdue bills but rejected his proposal to eliminate the backlog by borrowing money, and they acknowledged their own budget plans would take about five years to pay off the bills. Republican leaders proposed cutting government spending by making unspecified changes to Medicaid, government pensions and health insurance for state employees.

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