Guests respond to Hastert

By Dave Gomez

Politicians, alumni and Secret Service agents turned out Saturday night for U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert’s 18th annual fundraiser at NIU’s Convocation Center.

“Is this a great week to be Republican or what?” Illinois State Treasurer Judy Baar-Topinka asked the crowd of more than 2,500 as a massive American flag formed a draping background.

Event attendees ranged from two-time Super Bowl winner Clarence Vaughn to several prominent NIU alumni.

The fundraiser was a chance to meet old friends and get into the convention spirit, said alumnus Antonio Davis-Fairman, a Republican candidate for U.S. Representative in the 7th Congressional District.

“[DeKalb] people have conservative principles and values,” said Davis-Fairman, a former NIU football player and founder of NIU’s Delta Chi chapter fraternity.

Also at the event was former NIU football coach Bob Brigham, after whom Huskie Stadium’s field was named in 2003.

Brigham said the crowd was among the largest he’s seen at NIU.

“Bill Cosby was big,” he said, “but this is bigger.”

Over the course of the week, local volunteers helped with preparations for the event, which included putting copies of Hastert’s recently published autobiography, “Speaker: Lessons from Forty Years in Coaching and Politics,” on all the tables, Hastert spokesman Brad Hahn said.

“No stone has gone unturned,” Hahn said.

Secret Service agents were on hand at the event to provide security for Vice President Dick Cheney, who was visiting as a guest speaker.

Cheney and Hastert both spoke about terrorism, Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry and winning the election in November.

Illinois’ impact in the November election was a hot issue for many Republicans in light of improving poll numbers for Bush.

An enthusiasm is transforming the “heart and spirit” of Republican voters, said Illinois U.S. Senate candidate Alan Keyes.

“This state shouldn’t be sold short,” Keyes said. “They have given up on nothing.”

“We’ve got a good shot,” said U.S. Rep. Don Manzullo, who encouraged the president to campaign in Illinois.

“People love George W. Bush,” Manzullo said. “He speaks very simply in a language people understand.”

Illinois has swung Democratic in the past three presidential elections but voted Republican in the previous six.