SPRINGFIELD -- Republicans predicted they will beat President Barack Obama in his home state on Thursday, their day to rally party activists at the Illinois State Fair.

SPRINGFIELD -- Republicans predicted they will beat President Barack Obama in his home state on Thursday, their day to rally party activists at the Illinois State Fair.


A thin crowd turned out on a balmy afternoon on the Director’s Lawn at the fairgrounds to hear speeches from the state’s top officeholders. Despite a disappointing 2010, during which state Sen. Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, lost to incumbent Gov. Pat Quinn, party leaders see mostly positives for 2012.


“If we can’t do it this year, we’ll never do it,” state Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka told Republican county chairmen.


She tore into Obama for allowing the Secret Service to build a souped-up bus for his three-day Midwestern bus tour -- billed as a government event, not a political one -- that ended Wednesday.


“I am really ticked off by that. I really think it should have been bought with campaign funds,” she said.


The Secret Service has defended the $1.1 million bus, which is bulletproof and has a state-of-the-art communications system, as necessary for the president’s protection.


Taxpayer dollars


Asked whether Republican presidents won’t use the bus in the future, Topinka responded, “Well, even with that, it’s not fair. It’s not fair to do that on taxpayer dollars.”


The Secret Service has commissioned a second bus to be used by the eventual 2012 Republican presidential nominee.


Topinka, like most GOP officeholders, wasn’t ready to commit to supporting any presidential contenders so far.


Rep. Aaron Schock, R-Peoria, wants to see his House colleague, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., get into the race because he likes Ryan’s budget plan. That plan, which Schock voted for, was controversial because it called for transitioning Medicare to a voucher system for people currently under the age of 55.


“You can’t put a serious budget on the table that curbs the costs of the federal government unless you deal with entitlements,” Schock said. “It’s 65 cents out of our dollar right now.”


Voter sentiment


Some Republican officials stopped short of predicting that Obama can be beaten in Illinois, but they still argued that Illinois voters are unhappy with the president, opening the door for the ultimate GOP nominee.


“The 61 percent he got in 2008, he’ll be nowhere near that.” said state Sen. Matt Murphy, R-Palatine.


Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, R-Lemont, conceded that, in Illinois, Obama will benefit from voters having  “a real allegiance to the favorite son, a pride in having the president.”


However, she said, “I think it’s going to be a heckuva lot closer than it was last time.”


Two Republican voters, one of whom sported a Rick Perry for president T-shirt, said they support the Texas governor for the GOP nomination because of his record.


“Governor Perry has made more jobs for the state of Texas than any other governor in the United States,” said Cindy Drabing, 57, of Taylorville. “Plus he’s a Christian. We are Christians.”


“I always look at the candidate’s stance on abortion and gay marriage. As a Christian, I don’t agree with that,” said Maggie Singh, 27, also of Taylorville.


Steve Brown, a spokesman for Illinois Democratic Party chairman Michael Madigan, scoffed at the idea Obama will be beaten in Illinois in 2012.


"They cited all the problems, but they offered no solutions," Brown said of the Republicans at the fair.


Chris Wetterich can be reached at (217) 788-1523. Political writer Bernard Schoenburg contributed to this report.


Straw poll


Illinois Republicans plan to hold a statewide straw poll Nov. 5, one year before the 2012 presidential election, said state GOP chairman Pat Brady.


The poll, the brainchild of U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., will be conducted through the Internet. Party leaders have not decided how much it will cost to participate, Brady said. Iowa Republicans charged $30 for a ticket to their poll. Kirk has mentioned a figure of $5.


“Like Mark says, why let New Hampshire and Iowa have all the fun?” Brady said.