Champaign County Republicans expect extremely close election

By Paolo Cisneros

Republicans in Champaign County are gearing up for the Feb. 5 primary election without a clear idea of which Republican candidate residents will choose.

“The Champaign County Republicans do not endorse a (presidential) candidate,” said Jason Barickman, chairman of the Republican organization. “We have groups of activists that are campaigning for their individual candidates at this point, and we, as a party, are doing everything we can to support them.”

Those individual campaigns that are taking place in the days and weeks leading up to the Illinois primary election, are the projects of smaller groups of Republicans in Champaign County, which play an important role in the unfolding story of this political year, Barickman said.

“When there’s a primary as hotly contested as this one is, it’s up to those groups to really get out there and get their voices heard so that they have the best possible shot at getting their candidate nominated,” he said.

The Champaign County Republicans, Barickman said, exists to support the efforts of Republican activist groups by organizing volunteers and storing and recording data among other things.

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“For example, if I support Rudy Giuliani, I can go to the party to find out who usually puts up yard signs,” he said. “I can then use that information to contact those people to see if they would be willing to put up some Giuliani signs.”

Office space is also available for Republican campaigners through Barickman’s law firm.

Mark Shelden, Champaign County clerk who also supported Fred Thompson, said that although he did not utilize that office space, the assistance that Republican campaigns have received from the Champaign County Republicans has played an important part in the grassroots efforts taking place throughout the county.

“Right now they help out with organization which is really important because what we’ve found is that a lot of Republicans haven’t made up their minds as to which candidate they’re going to vote for,” Shelden said.

Unlike the Democratic side of the race, where Barack Obama is expected by many in the party to win the county, the Republican Party has yet to see a clear frontrunner emerge.

“The Republican race is still wide open so, while we’re historically a Republican county, there are still a lot of people weighing their options at this point,” Shelden said.

Kristin Williamson, president of the Champaign County Young Republicans, said that while Rudy Giuliani was the early favorite to win Champaign County, the race has become more competitive in recent weeks.

The Young Republicans, she said, also do not endorse a candidate but are active in assisting the numerous Republican campaigns that are in need of their assistance.

“We’re getting a great deal of support from Republican voters,” she said. “At both the local and national level we’re seeing a better response than I think was initially anticipated.”

Until the Illinois primary election is over, Republican campaigns will continue to remain active in Champaign County.

“The Champaign County Republicans take a back seat until Feb. 6 at which time we’ll work to unite the party,” Barickman said. “That’s the time when we’ll all get together to support our candidate, whoever that may be.”