SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) - Gov. Bruce Rauner and Illinois Republicans all but ignored the party's bid to reclaim the White House at the Illinois State Fair Wednesday, focusing on term limits, political map-drawing and loads of campaign cash to defeat "machine" Democrats who have a vise grip on the General Assembly.
The party's presidential nominee, Donald Trump, was mentioned only sparingly during Governor's Day festivities. Instead, the first-term governor got the crowd to chant "Term limits now!" even though the earliest the question could go to the ballot would be in 2018.
He also extolled the virtues of taking politics out of drawing legislative district maps. That question's place on the November ballot is being challenged in court by Democrats.
Rauner promised the GOP would outspend Democrats this fall to pick up seats in the House, where Democrats outnumber Republicans 71-47, and the Senate, where the spread is 39-20.
"This year, we're going to go toe-to-toe with them," Rauner told party county chairmen at a meeting Wednesday morning. Rauner said Democrats have far outspent the GOP in recent elections, but "we're going to do better than they do. You'll see the biggest ground game ever for legislative races in Illinois."
Trump's absence, except on some T-shirts and signs, was likely driven by U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk's openly disavowing him and Rauner's steadfast refusal to say whether he'll support the outspoken New York real estate developer.
"That bothered me," said Trump supporter Mike Schwerer of Peoria. "We're Republicans, we need to get out and vote for the presidential nominee."
Rauner demonized the powerful Chicago Democrats who control the Legislature by labeling them a "machine" of entrenched politicians directing a "system that's rigged for power of the existing class ... not working for the people."
When asked how Republicans could win in a "rigged" system, Rauner said, "We're taking our message to the people. We're going around the system and straight to the people."
He did not name the Chicago Democratic leaders - House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton - although the party passed out term-limit buttons with an image of Madigan from his first term in the House in 1971. Madigan has been House speaker for all but two of the past 33 years.
"They are just really trying to escape Trump," said Steve Brown, spokesman for the Illinois Democratic Party, of which Madigan is chairman. "They're trying to think of anything they can say."
Kirk faces Democratic U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth in November's election. Asked about his refusal to endorse Trump in his race against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Kirk said "such bad choices" puts more emphasis on choosing a senator who "is the best pro-Illinois candidate that we can get."
Kirk said in the spring that he would support Trump, but backed off after the candidate made several contentious comments. He then said he would write in David Petraus, the retired U.S. Army general and former CIA director who pleaded guilty to mishandling classified information. Last week, he said he would write in retired Gen. Colin Powell to back someone who opposes President Barack Obama's nuclear deal with Iran. But Powell supports that plan.
Asked Wednesday if he would rebound to Petraus, Kirk said only, "I like him," but noted write-in votes for people who haven't declared their candidacies don't count in Illinois.