It's understandable if Republicans feel a little panicky right now.

Their party's US Senate candidate, Alan Keyes, was wiped out in the biggest Senate landslide in Illinois history.

And they were stunned when longtime Congressman Phil Crane lost his seat to a Democrat.

These two striking events have some Republicans calling for a total housecleaning of their party's leadership. The inevitable Chicken Little stories in the media have already begun to pop up, quoting woe-is-me Republicans eager to point the finger of blame wherever most benefits their own personal agendas.

What the party really needs, however, is to rid itself of the leaders who scream the loudest, do no work and then blame everyone else when things fall apart.

When the team loses, the first response is to fire the coach. Yet, there is no way anyone can blame state GOP chair Judy Baar Topinka for the party's decision to choose Keyes or for Crane's loss.

Topinka, who, as state treasurer, is also the only statewide elected Republican in Illinois, fought valiantly against picking Keyes. She knew he would be a disaster, but a majority on the state central committee overruled her, believing they knew better. Oops.

Topinka poured $200,000 into Congressman Crane's race. She opened an office in the district, put in two full-time staffers and organized over 200 volunteers. But Crane had ignored his constituents for way too many years and he paid the ultimate price last Tuesday.

Topinka was also instrumental in helping the state House and Senate Republicans pick up a total of three seats this year.

For the first time ever, the state party contributed money to the GOP's two legislative leaders, giving each $300,000 in cash, plus other services like purchasing detailed voter databases for hot districts. Topinka also inserted paid staff into two legislative races, and put volunteers into five. She helped the two leaders save hundreds of thousands on their direct mail programs by running their mail through her office, a first for the Republican Party.

Topinka also put paid staff into southern Illinois' Supreme Court race, raised money for the GOP candidate and served as the conduit for over $2 million in contributions to the campaign. The Republicans won the seat, which they hadn't done since the late 1960s.

Not including the Supreme Court cash, Topinka raised well over $4 million this fall, an amazing amount.

No previous Republican Party chair has ever done as much as Topinka. The moderate Republican had a major hand in her party's only bright spots this year, and she can't honestly be blamed for its darker moments.

Now, let's take a look at the other side.

Up until this year, state Sen. Steve Rauschenberger (R-Elgin) had a reputation as a moderate conservative. While running in the Republican primary for US Senate last spring, Rauschenberger talked up that moderation as much as he could to newspaper editorial boards. The newspapers ended up supporting him in droves.

Elsewhere, Rauschenberger laid on the red meat as much as possible, stressing his ideological purity to right-wing groups. He ended up finishing a distant third in the primary, scoring just 20 percent and finishing more than 100,000 votes behind Jack Ryan, the doomed nominee.

After Ryan crashed and burned last summer, Rauschenberger came up with the idea to run Alan Keyes in his place. According to the Rockford Register-Star, Rauschenberger convinced fellow state Sen. Dave Syverson (R-Rockford) to back Keyes. Syverson, the Illinois GOP's treasurer, then pushed the idea to the state central committee, which narrowly backed the Marylander's candidacy.

Both Rauschenberger and Syverson were quoted extensively in Illinois newspapers defending their Keyes decision. Do a Google search if you don't believe me.

Besides pontificating to the press, what did the two men actually do this fall? Not much.

According to records at the Illinois State Board of elections, Rauschenberger contributed a grand total of $1,000 to Republican candidates this fall. Syverson donated a big fat zero.

And now Rauschenberger is telling everyone who will listen that he wants to run for governor in 2006. The man who brought us Alan Keyes and then did almost nothing to help his fellow Republicans survive the resulting Democratic landslide claims he can bring the party's feuding moderate and conservative wings together.

So far, Rauschenberger has been all talk and no action. Unless he changes his ways, all those fawning newspaper editorial board members ought to take a closer look at their former darling.


Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter. He can be reached at