Chicago GOP presidential debate: 4 convention delegates, 0 candidates

Michael Volpe Contributor
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CHICAGO — Republicans in Chicago’s 43rd Ward saw an unusual presidential primary debate and straw poll Wednesday night, one where no candidates showed up and their convention-delegate surrogates did all the talking.

Because of a peculiar state law, voters in Tuesday’s Illinois GOP primary won’t pick a presidential candidate: They will choose from among a list of delegates to the state’s convention. On Wednesday the non-candidates parroted talking points, mused on their political picks’ weaknesses, and even attempted promises about how they would vote in a brokered GOP national convention.

Dave Ratowitz, an attorney who lost a 2010 congressional election to Democrat Mike Quigley, was Texas Rep. Ron Paul’s proxy for the event at Chicago’s Lion Head Pub. He pointed to Ron Paul’s predictions of the real estate bubble at the beginning of the decade as an example of his insights.

“This is someone who’s said things we’ve needed to hear,” Ratowitz told the audience in the posh Chicago neighborhood of Lincoln Park. “And oftentimes he’s said them years before we ready to hear them.”

Former House Speak Newt Gingrich was represented by perennial Chicago Young Republicans leadership figure Laura Kotelman.

“Newt Gingrich is the closing thing we have to Ronald Reagan in this field,” she insisted, underscoring Gingrich’s leadership in Congress the last time the federal budget was balanced. “He’s the smartest guy in the room.”

Dan Fahner, an attorney and long-time of Mitt Romney’s state chairman, said the former Massachusetts governor brought the broadest political experience to the race. He largely echoed Romney’s biography, listing off successes at Bain Capital, the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, and his time in Boston.

And Joe Tedrick, who has been a Republican committeeman in nearby Niles Township for more than a decade, promoted former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum as a Washington-savvy Republican and the most consistent conservative in the race.

Romney won the straw poll followed by Gingrich, Santorum and Paul.

But before voting began, the debaters were asked to identify their own candidates’ biggest weakness. And unlike the presidential hopefuls themselves, most answered the question.

“Romneycare,” said Fahner.

“Some people might not like his three ex-wives,” Kotelman, the Gingrich surrogate, admitted.

“The strength that I’ve been speaking about all night may also be a weakness,” said Hedrick. “I’ve spoken about Santorum’s long time in the Senate. Not everyone may want someone with that kind of experience.”

The question that raised the most eyebrows concerned what each delegate would do if the national convention in Tampa should fail to produce a nominee on the first ballot, and each of them was free to change allegiances.

“I do think it’s premature to consider that at this point,” Fahner offered.

Ratowitz pounced. “If you vote for David Ratowitz as a delegate, I think you have a right to know who I’m voting for.”

Perhaps sensing that he spoke too fast, Ratowitz backpedaled.

“In the first round I’m going to vote for Ron Paul,” he said. “In the second round, I’m going to vote in the interests of the Fifth [Congressional] District.”

One question that produced lots of squirming but no straight answers came from Amanda Karpos, a professional singer who asked how each of the candidates would reach out to racial minorities and other voting blocs where Republicans have traditionally failed.

After the debate, Karpos told The Daily Caller that she was unsatisfied with any of the answers. Still, she supports Mitt Romney. “He’s the most electable.”

Robert Gordon, a long-time Republican activist, told TheDC that he is still undecided between supporting Gingrich and Santorum delegates. “Economy is the number one issue for me,” Gordon said, “and restoring our respect in the world is number two.”

Dan Anderson, an entrepreneur who owns a carpet cleaning business and a manufacturing company, said he would support delegates pledged to Gingrich.

“He’s brass tacks. He’s the one that I think has the best economic plan.”