ARTHUR — State Treasurer Dan Rutherford said that Illinois Republicans must expand their base if they intend to win the governor's office in 2014.
Rutherford, 57, was the only one of at least five rumored Republican contenders for governor to attend the Douglas County Republican Party's Lincoln Day dinner Tuesday night at Yoder's Kitchen in Arthur.
He said Republicans in Illinois have to follow Ronald Reagan's model and not allow themselves to be divided over social issues such as abortion, guns, gay rights and the death penalty. That, he said, is how he was able to win a statewide race in 2010.
"I didn't let the public discourse during my discussions of running for state treasurer go there," he said. "I talked about the things that I thought were important to the public."
He said, "if we allow the social issues like abortion to define a good Republican from a bad Republican, we will be the party of the perpetual minority. If we allow those issues to be divisive amongst us and don't have respect for those who have a different opinion on those issues, we will never, ever have majorities."
And winning means reaching out to other groups, Rutherford said.
"It doesn't just mean that you have to be able to carry Douglas County or Pulaski County," he told the group of about 100 Republican loyalists. "You've gotta have Douglas and Pulaski, but what are you doing in the 42nd Ward of the city of Chicago? That has more votes in it than Douglas and Pulaski combined. That's ultimately what it's going to get down to."
He said the fastest-growing minority group in Illinois is Asians.
"And having a strategy politically, to embrace" Asian groups is vital to Republicans, he said.
"They're all Americans. They're all registered to vote. They all have businesses. And they all care about this whole tax structure thing we've been talking about," said Rutherford. "What it's going to get down to is, who can reach into the communities of diversity, the people who are brown and yellow, the people who are Hindu and Punjabi, and not just all the Christians because Illinois is a dramatic mosaic?"
Although he has not formally announced he is running for governor, Rutherford noted "that I'm the one Republican looking at it who has actually won a statewide race."
He said he is able to attract independents and Democratic voters.
"I just know what it takes to win a statewide race. I've done it," he said. "I've gotten 22 percent in the city of Chicago, and you've got to have at least 20 or you'll never win a race."
Rutherford, who as a legislator voted for civil unions — the only Republican in the Senate to do so — and for human rights bills, said he opposes the gay marriage legislation that is expected come up for a state Senate vote Thursday.
"I am not for gay marriage. I see the difference in that it is a religious act and I see it diferent than as a civil act," he said.