Mike Reagan: All eyes across the nation, especially those peering out from behind the blinds of the White House's political operation, are beginning to recognize that the race for a soon-to-be open U.S. Senate seat in Illinois could become another Republican incursion into usually solid blue state grounds - especially a blue state that is the home state to the sitting president.
This week, the state of Illinois concluded its primaries for its soon-to-be-open United States Senate seat. This seat, President Barack Obama's until he won the presidency, has gained infamy with former Illinois Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich's efforts to "sell" the seat to the highest bidder.
The race will feature five-term Republican Rep. Mark Kirk versus Democratic State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias. Kirk, who has ridden the wave of conservative voter enthusiasm, easily won his primary by 37 points. His general election opponent, Giannoulias, struggled to find the same level of enthusiasm within his party ranks and merely earned the nomination by 5 percent of the vote. And it is now estimated that Kirk holds a powerful 3-to-1 advantage in cash on hand.
All eyes across the nation, especially those peering out from behind the blinds of the White House's political operation, are beginning to recognize that this race could become another Republican incursion into usually solid blue state grounds - especially a blue state that is the home state to the sitting president. Just over four years ago, Obama won this seat by the largest margin in Illinois Senate election history. Today, Democrats are struggling to keep it in their column.
But the opportunities don't stop in Illinois - they are presenting themselves all across the nation. If Republican victories in Virginia, New Jersey and Massachusetts weren't enough evidence of this growing national momentum against Democrats and their dangerous proposals, the very real opportunity now exists for Republicans to take back the U.S. Senate - something that would have seemed inconceivable even a few months ago.
Senate races in Indiana, North Dakota, Arkansas, and even Connecticut, to name a few, have become competitive. In some cases, Republicans have taken extremely impressive leads. Even Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., finds himself trailing several of his potential Republican opponents in early polling. According to a new poll commissioned by the Las Vegas Review-Journal, more than half of Nevadans are unhappy with Reid. It's the worst unfavorable rating he's received in the newspaper's surveys for this election.
Democrats in Washington should hear the message of the voters loud and clear: Immediately cease your efforts to expand the size and scope of the federal government and the massive spending that goes with it, and instead focus on sound policies that will help bring back jobs and reduce the exponentially expanding federal deficit. Ignore the warning, and you will continue to be defeated at the ballot box in red, blue or purple states.
But it doesn't appear that Democratic leaders can help themselves, even with their electoral prospects looking bleak and moderates within their own ranks appealing for sensibility. Obama, Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., have plunged full speed ahead - attempting to push through unpopular health care legislation, raising the federal debt ceiling, and spending our tax dollars at a record pace without a hint of sensibility.
However, the political opportunities for Republicans are not guaranteed come November. Conservatives too must make some smart tactical moves to ensure that this momentum is not a short spurt of success but rather a long-term trajectory in their favor. This will require the diverse segments of our party to coalesce around party nominees, even when not all segments are in agreement on every issue.
We must recognize that while the Scott Browns of the world may not be conservative enough for some of us - he may be just conservative enough for the voters of Massachusetts. Today, independents are becoming increasingly influential in the outcomes of political races, and Republican candidates must be attractive to this constituency if they are to have the kind of successes that seem to be miraculously within reach.
This is not to say Republicans should forget who we are as a party. Rather, it means that if we are finally willing to return to the "Big Tent" approach, we may be in a position to change our nation's political philosophy and policies for years to come - a pretty remarkable turnaround for a party that was left for dead just one year ago.
Mike Reagan, the elder son of the late President Ronald Reagan, is spokesperson for The Reagan Nation and chairman and president of The Reagan Legacy Foundation, www.reaganlegacyfoundation.org.