PEORIA — Two months after Donald Trump surprised many observers by handily winning the Illinois Republican primary, the Illinois Republican Party enthusiastically embraced him as their candidate.
Meeting at its annual convention here, a long line of Republican party officials and office-holders pledged to get behind presumptive GOP nominee Trump.
Even Gov. Bruce Rauner, who had said he would not endorse Trump and will not attend the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in July, tacitly urged the nearly 1,000 state delegates to support Trump.
“Now is the time to come together, now is the time to unite, up and down the ticket,” Rauner told the convention. “What we can’t do is let Hillary Clinton get in the White House. No way Hillary Clinton is getting elected.”
Rauner never mentioned Trump’s name, but he was an exception among most of the elected officials and party officers who spoke Saturday.
The big question heading toward November for Illinois Republicans has been whether having Trump atop the ticket will hurt Republican candidates or help them. Presidential election years tend to drive Democratic turnout in Illinois.
But Trump has disproven all conventional political wisdom since announcing his candidacy last June. By that standard, his presence could motivate Illinois Republicans to get to the polls.
“I think it’s going to be good for Illinois Republicans. We’ve got a gentleman at the top of the ticket who’s brought enormous numbers of people out in the primaries. We’re seeing the energy,” said Tim Schneider, chairman of the Illinois Republican Party. “We’ve never had a state convention as big as this one. People are united behind Republicans up and down the ticket  and I think it’s going to benefit everybody. I think Democrats in Illinois have an awakening coming here in November.”