It's probably not a good sign that at least two prominent speakers at the state fair's Republican Day event last week felt it was necessary to insist that the Illinois Republican Party is not dead.

Other speakers worked hard to reinforce the not-dead theme by helpfully pointing out several possible signs of life.

Word from on-high is that the national Senate Republicans are planning to contribute lots of money to Republican U.S. Senate candidate Alan Keyes.

It's not that the national poobahs actually believe Keyes can win, mind you.

I have a lot of respect for Illinois Senate Republican Leader Frank Watson, but I think he's gone off his rocker.

Watson strongly supports the candidacy of Alan Keyes for U.S. Senate in Illinois. One of his lieutenants, state Senator Dave Syverson (R-Rockford), was the guy who recruited Keyes in the first place, talked him up to the media, and then helped convince the GOP state central committee to offer the vacant Jack Ryan slot to him, over the objections of party chairperson Judy Baar Topinka.

No governor ever gets everything he wants in a budget. But this year's budget agreement reflects what appears to be the greatest expansion of legislative power in decades. Governor Rod Blagojevich had to give up a lot during the two-month overtime session, and he didn't get much in return.

It's been an opportunist playground," a top Republican Party official sighed last week.

Every time somebody floats his or her own name for the vacant slot for Republican U.S. Senate candidate and then "withdraws," the media paints it as yet another disaster for the state party, the clearly annoyed official complained.

I never thought Mike Ditka would actually run for the United States Senate. But I really, really wanted him to.

Hey, I know he might not have been a great senator. He's too obnoxious, too impatient, too "either do it my way or I'll grab you by the shirt and shake you up good" for such a deliberative body.

Slowly but surely, the state legislature is being replaced by five guys in a back room.

It's old news that the four legislative leaders and the governor have totally hijacked the budget process. For years now, the governor, the House speaker, the Senate president, and the House and Senate minority leaders have met behind closed doors to hammer out the state's spending plans.

Who's to blame for the overtime legislative session?

It's a question you will probably hear a lot in the coming days, even weeks, as the factions jockey for position.

In case you haven't heard, the state budget is a mess.

During the last scheduled night of the spring legislative session, a reporter decided to step outside for a smoke.

While he was outdoors, he tried to catch a glimpse inside the governor's office.

In one window, the reporter saw Deputy Governor Bradley Tusk talking to someone on the telephone.

In a spectacular reversal of fortune, the Chicago Tribune reported last week that Governor Rod Blagojevich's job-approval rating has dropped to just 40 percent.

In February, a Tribune poll had Blagojevich's approval rating at 55 percent.

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