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Congressman Aaron Schock and Political Centrism

Congressman Aaron Schock shouldn’t have it both ways. The two-term Republican from Illinois’ 18th District has been mentioned as a possible GOP candidate for governor in 2014, and after last month’s election losses, the 31 year old has been quoted as saying his party should move toward the middle of the road.

Although Schock was easily re-elected, his opponent was neither well-funded nor strong, and within Schock’s district, 8 of 10 counties between Peoria and the Quad Cities voted for President Obama.


Echoing respected and accomplished Republicans including former Gov. Jim Edgar, Schock told the Associated Press, “You’re going to have candidates who are more centrist and know how to communicate and appeal to moderates.”

Cynics may scoff and recall “flip-flops” like Mitt Romney’s (who Schock supported). Or his remark could mean he’s taking himself out of the running, or maybe honing his charm for fooling (er, “appealing to”) moderates, or perhaps even considering the wide common ground that Illinoisans of all preferences share.

In fact, reasonable people might see his comment and think fondly of Edgar or other levelheaded Republicans, from Illinois Sen. Chuck Percy to President Dwight Eisenhower, from Pennsylvania’s liberal Sen. Richard Schweiker (Ronald Reagan’s 1976 primary running mate) to Michigan Gov. George Romney (who sometimes changed his mind, like about Vietnam, but was strong and steady about issues such as Civil Rights).

There may be lessons for a GOP candidate for governor. Conservative Michael Tanner in National Review said, “The problem is not just a matter of [Republicans’] stance on the issues, but their tone. It’s not just that Republicans oppose abortion or gay marriage, but that they often sound intolerant and self-righteous.”

Illinois GOP chair Pat Brady told the AP, “We’ve got to get over this caricature of us as being a bunch of angry people standing in the way of everything.”

However, the Republican Party platform opposed economic stimulus, health-care reform, addressing climate change, reproductive rights, same-sex marriage, campaign finance limits, and regulating Big Banks, and advocated extending tax breaks for the rich, privatizing Amtrak and Social Security, and downsizing the Post Office and Medicare/Medicaid.

Meanwhile, Illinois’ gubernatorial hopefuls include State Sens. Bill Brady and Kirk Dillard, and State Treasurer Dan Rutherford. Two August polls list Schock, too, but had him trailing. A Daily Herald poll of GOP convention delegates gave Rutherford 73% support, Dillard 9 and Schock 5; an Illinois Manufacturers’ Association poll of likely Republican voters conducted by its “We Ask America” service showed Brady with 24% support, Rutherford 10, Dillard 8 and Schock 7.

Some prospective candidates might be tempted to try to outdo the very conservative Bill Brady, who lost to Quinn in 2010, but maybe Edgar’s more rational demeanor is influencing others.

Schock’s problem is his track record, exemplified by his “performance review” by various interest groups. Legislative scorecards from different organizations demonstrate Schock’s appeal is not to centrists, but to conservatism and its fringes. The American Conservative Union scored Schock at 83%, the liberal Americans for Democratic Action, 0; the Religious Right’s Family Research Council, 90, the Children’s Health Fund, 0; Christian Coalition, 100%, the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, an “F”; National Rifle Association, 92; the League of Conservation Voters, 15; U.S. Chamber of Commerce, 93; the AFL-CIO labor federation, 31; National Right to Life Committee, 100; Planned Parenthood, 0; American Farm Bureau, 100; the National Farmers Union, 0.

Also endorsing Schock was the John Birch Society – which once sought to impeach Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren, a moderate Republican. But giving Schock failing grades were these relatively mainstream groups: the Alliance for Retired Americans, the American Library Association, the American Nurses Association, the Arab American Institute, Food Policy Action, the NAACP, and the National Education Association. The National Latino Congreso/William C. Velasquez Institute gave a 0 to Schock, who voted against the DREAM Act immigration reform yet last month told the Chicago Sun-Times, “The group that we really have to zero in on, I believe, is the Latino community, a group that really should be voting for Republicans to the degree we take a leadership role on the issue of immigration.”

On the other hand, perhaps Schock’s indication that centrism is not unappealing reveals a chance for a change.  

The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Tri States Public Radio or Western Illinois University. Bill Knight’s newspaper columns are archived at