(Cambridge)- Saturday morning, February 29, a large crowd packed the room at the Cambridge Community and Youth Center to listen to a variety of Republican candidates holding and/or seeking, public office. The Patrick Henry Club is a project of the Henry County Republican Club that hopes to bring conservative together to meet, and discuss issues of importance: local, state, and Federal. They gather six times a year.

The first speaker was State Rep. Dan Swanson (R-Alpha). He pointed to bills in Springfield sponsored by Democrats that he would not support. These included a ban on gasoline powered leaf blowers, and a prohibition on individuals pumping their own gas, instead having to utilized the services of a "gas attendant."

But the bill that he disagreed with the most, and one that he said has generated a flood of opposition calls and e-mails to his district office in Woodhull, has been HB 4870. That bill would require teenage girls to be vaccinated for the HPV virus by their 13th birthday. "It should be up to the parents to decide, in consultation with their doctor," Swanson said. Swanson is unopposed in the primary. He will have a Galesburg area Democrat opponent in  November.

Next up was Win Stoller, Republican nominee for State Senate. Stoller, of Peoria, was born in Woodford County, and is seeking to replace Chuck Weaver, who is not running for re-election, after one term. Stoller earned an accounting degree and MBA from University of Illinois. He also went on to pass the CPA exam, and has built a 22-year career with Widmer Interiors, the last 14 years as co-owner. Married to Amy, for 27 years, he indicated she is "my greatest asset" and helped him collect 2400 petition signatures in just six weeks.

"I am running for Senate to fight against the 19 new taxes passed in the last year, with no spending cuts, and to tackle the $140 billion state pension debt obligations. I won't be a wallflower. I will speak out on all these issues," Stoller concluded. He is expected to face a Democrat candidate, and one with connections to the Alliance Party, in the Fall.

Neil Anderson (R- Andalusia) then addressed the group. He represents northern and western parts of Henry County, including Colona and Cleveland. A six year incumbent, Anderson said he introduced two bills in the last year. One would repeal the FOID (Firearm Owners ID) card, to make it easier for gun owners to exercise their constitutional rights. Currently, only 3 states of 50 require a FOID. His second bill would prohibit charging income tax on overtime hours worked.,

The next speakers were the two Republicans squaring off for the right to face incumbent Democrat Cheri Bustos of East Moline. Esther Joy King of East Moline,  and William "Bill" Fawell of Galena are the two options in the primary. King is a Northwestern trained attorney, a JAG Officer in the Army Reserves, and a former small business owner and administrator for an Illinois state agency. Fawell is a real estate broker and was the Republican nominee for the seat in 2018.

King spoke first and emphasized her growing up on the Texas-Mexico border as the adopted daughter of Christian Missionary parents. She highlighted the issue of health care costs and likened it to a "ping-pong political game" with no solution for many years. She also promised to address immigration by securing the border and allowing legal immigrants who "add value" into the United States.

Fawell's "Let the People Rule" platform includes term limits, Audit the Federal Reserve Bank to "see how and where they spend their money", and to roll back government overreach and conflicts of interest. He criticized Rep. Bustos for "serving the Democrat Party and not the people." He also claimed more independence from the Republican Party than King, who has secured more party members endorsements.

King indicated her support for President Trump and agricultural trade deals with China and other countries. Fawell touted a bill he would sponsor to help retain and attract Volunteer Firefighters/Paramedics in rural areas through stipends and benefits.

Both candidates indicated strong support for ethanol and the Second Amendment. Fawell said, "The Second Amendment protects all the other amendments." King criticized Rep. Bustos for several recent key votes against the Second Amendment.

 In closing arguments, Fawell said that he had documents to prove his residency in the 17th District for 23 years, and King's since August 9, 2019. However, the requirement to run for US Congress is one year of residency in the state, rather than the District. The last 17th District Republican Congressman, Bobby Schilling of Geneseo, lived in District 14, when he was elected in 2010 for the 17th.

The final part of the program was a US Senate forum to see who the Republicans were presenting as candidates to challenge Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Springfield), who has been In the House since 1982 and the Senate since 1996.

Attending were Mark Curran of Libertyville, Peggy Hubbard of Belleville, Dr. Robert Marshall of Burr Ridge, and Dr. Tom Tarter of Springfield. Casey Chlebek, of Chicago was not there.

Each candidate made their cases as to why they were the best candidate and answered a series of questions from Moderator Lance Camp of Annawan. Curran said he was most electable and experienced because he had served three terms as Sheriff of Lake County, Illinois' third largest county, from 2006-18. In 2018 he lost to a Democrat by 137 votes, while President Trump lost Lake County by over 17,000. He touted having balanced 12 budgets in a row and being an early public supporter of Concealed Carry legislation. Curran converted to the Republican Party in 2008, but has always maintained a pro-life position.

Hubbard, an African-American candidate, said she could earn black votes from places like Chicago and East St. Louis that Durbin had left behind and was not representing well. She cited her lifelong affiliation with the Democrat Party, and twice voting for Barack Obama, until she "walked away" after her husband, a Ferguson police officer was spit on and attacked during that city's riots by "Black Lives Matter" members. Hubbard said "vote for the biker chick to defeat Dick." Her background includes Navy service for an undisclosed timeframe, a "court officer" position in St. Louis, and a federal position as an IRS Analyst.

Dr. Marshall, a radiologist, who last ran as a Democrat for Governor in 2018, has been an elected Board member in Burr Ridge. He highlights a conservative platform on the Second Amendment and government spending, but supports same sex marriage and abortion up to 24 weeks. He advocates a unique plan to divide Illinois into three states, including one south of I-80, to offset the large influence of Chicago.

Dr. Tarter recently retired as a cancer doctor and states he is a long-time Republican. His wife manages the Sangamon County Republican Party office and his youngest son is a 19-year old  Republican Precinct Committeeman. Dr. Tarter describes his pro-life position as evidenced from the adoption of all three of his sons. His number one issue is ending Obama Care and implementing free market solutions and plans giving patients more choices and more efficiencies in the system.

This primary has been hotly contested. At one point Hubbard made claim to several endorsements that Curran immediately disputed and have been debunked on the Facebook Page "Peggy Hubbard Watch"  Hubbard is shown on video making profanity laced tirades and once bragging onsocial media of participating in a night of beer-infused "midget tossing"

Republican primary voters will have to do their research and sort out this field of candidates to decide who will have the best chance of defeating Senator Durbin, and who will provide the most help, and least controversy, to other Republicans up and down the ticket.