SPRINGFIELD - State Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka is pledging to restore faith in scandal-scarred state government if elected governor, but she won't be taking a pledge against raising taxes.
In stops throughout the state Wednesday, the 61-year-old former state senator from Riverside issued a series of scathing attacks on Democrat Rod Blagojevich and argued that her brand of moderate Republicanism will win over independents and "thoughtful Democrats" during next year's election.
"I'm not the candidate from central casting," she told supporters in Springfield. "I think I'm conservative on many issues and I'm moderate on others."
During stops Wednesday in Cicero, Peoria, Marion and Springfield, Topinka said she wants to bring better budgeting methods to state government. But she stopped short of taking a no-tax-increase pledge - a key plank in Blagojevich's first term in office.
"That is not ever really something I like to do. I'm not going to take the pledge because I think that's irresponsible. I'm not going to lock in on anything," said Topinka.
Topinka also said her position on abortion has limits that aren't favored by abortion rights groups.
"A woman has a right to choose, but there have to be some reasonable restrictions on it," said Topinka.
As the presumptive GOP front-runner - she's the only Republican candidate to have won a statewide election - Topinka immediately became a magnet for criticism from both her Republican opponents and Blagojevich.
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In a statement, Blagojevich discounted Topinka's service as a state official, saying "Judy Baar Topinka would take us back to the same old politics that ignored the needs of working families."
Chicago businessman Ron Gidwitz, who, like Topinka, is described as a social moderate, sounded a similar note.
"Our Republican Party in Illinois is at a crossroads: We can continue to embrace the politics of the past - and the present - or we can move forward by opting for change," said Gidwitz.
State Sen. Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, hoping to cast himself as the new face of the GOP, said Topinka represents the party's old guard.
"Illinois needs a governor who represents a new generation of leadership," said Brady, a 12-year member of the General Assembly.
Other Republican candidates include state Sen. Steve Rauschenberger of Elgin and Aurora businessman Jim Oberweis. In making her announcement, Topinka was backed by former Gov. Jim Edgar, who had been unsuccessfully courted to take on Blagojevich.
Edgar will instead serve as Topinka's honorary campaign chairman, a largely ceremonial post, saying he believes her socially moderate positions will allow her to pick up disenchanted Democratic voters.
"People from all walks of life throughout the state have expressed to me their frustration and unhappiness with the current direction of the state," said Edgar.