In Illinois, a Rubio-Kasich rift as GOP battles to stop Trump

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John Kasich, left, and Marco Rubio. (AP Photo/Sean Rayford)
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CHICAGO — The anyone-but-Trump money movement may be particularly strong in Illinois, with the Ricketts family at its center, but there’s no sign that establishment Republicans here will band together to defeat the billionaire frontrunner.

Instead, with less than two weeks until this state’s primary, middle-of-the-road Republicans are split in their efforts to stop Trump. In Illinois, it’s Team Rubio vs. Team Kasich, with each insisting it’s the other who should pull out, and each refusing to do so.

“There’s a general consensus among the various Kasich, Rubio and Cruz camps that there should be a coalition, a consensus among them,” said a Rubio delegate, state Sen. Jason Barickman. “The obvious problem is: who’s the candidate we coalesce behind? I think that’s going go be driven nationally.”

Supporters of Ohio Gov. John Kasich believe they have the most viable path to victory in Presidents Obama's home state and hold up as evidence Kasich’s stated plan to pay at least three visits to Illinois before the March 15 primary. That includes hosting a Wednesday Town Hall in suburban Palatine, POLITICO has learned. That night, committeemen in the state’s most populous county, Cook County, will vote on its endorsement, which is strongly leaning Kasich, according to the party chairman.

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“The Cook County Republican Party is going to endorse Kasich … I’ve already got 43 percent committed to John Kasich. There’s not enough votes for anyone else to beat him in Cook County,” Cook County Republican Party Chairman Aaron Del Mar told POLITICO.

Del Mar said he has built a coalition supporting Kasich including Palatine, Cicero, Orland, Worth, Palos, Lyons and Elk Grove townships.

“That’s why John Kasich is spending so much time here," Del Mar said. "Because he has a path to victory in Illinois.”

Illinois is not a winner-take-all state but is selected by congressional district.

There are three delegates in each of the 18 districts. In addition, there are 15 at-large delegates, for a total of 69.  

Del Mar argues that since Cook County touches 10 of the state’s 18 congressional districts, Kasich — whose overall strategy at this point is to hope Trump's remaining opponents deny him a majority of delegates and then prevail at a brokered convention — has a fighting chance at victory, or at least at a strong finish.

Other Republican observers say, however, that different candidates could claim victories by geography; the city, suburbs and downstate could go in separate directions.

Sen. Marco Rubio’s team has made a strong run at Illinois in recent weeks and argues it has the best organization on the ground. Rubio hired Gov. Bruce Rauner’s former campaign manager, Chip Englander, as a strategist. In 2014, Rauner was the first Republican governor elected in Illinois in 12 years. Rauner’s key media aide, Mike Schrimpf, now leads communications for Kasich and, like Englander, knows the Illinois Republican roadmap.

While Kasich has drawn support from some top GOP leaders, like Senate GOP Leader Christine Radogno, and former Republican GOP chair Pat Brady, Rubio has drawn support from various Illinois congressmen, including Adam Kinzinger, Darin LaHood and Rodney Davis.

Rubio’s camp sees the vote-rich metro suburbs as “Rubio country.” Rubio’s team is also targeting urban congressional districts that are typically low-turnout in Republican primaries. And the campaign is making an investment in TV ads that should hit Illinois soon.

“Illinois Republicans are uniting behind Senator Rubio because he’s the bold, conservative reformer. We’re the only campaign activating a large volunteer army, calling Republican absentee ballot applicants and working friends and neighbors,” said Jordan Russell, Rubio campaign spokesperson.

When Jeb Bush pulled out of contention, some key donors, including onetime gubernatorial candidate Ron Gidwitz, migrated to Rubio.

However, POLITICO has reported that in upcoming days Rubio intends to hunker down in his home state of Florida, which holds its primary on the same day as Illinois. Kasich’s Ohio primary also falls on March 15.

Meantime, Trump leads in Illinois polls, even though he visited the state just once since he announced his candidacy. Kasich is polling fourth, behind Trump, Rubio, and Ted Cruz, respectively. Since those surveys, anti-Trump ads have hit Illinois radio and TV.

Del Mar swatted away the polls, saying, “We’re a funky bunch here in Illinois."

"The key to getting delegates is getting as many name brands on the ballot as possible,” Del Mar argued. “He has no elected officials on his slate. Kasich’s got more workers, he’s got the committeeman. We wield more juice.”