Even on election night, some Republicans have a little love to give



Illinois comptroller Judy Baar Topinka: saying whatever the hell she wants
  • Seth Perlman/AP
  • Illinois comptroller Judy Baar Topinka: saying whatever the hell she wants
I was sitting next to state comptroller Judy Baar Topinka on election night, trying to act like a gentleman, when she muttered something like, "What the heck is going on with this thing?"

At first I thought she was talking about the election. Then I realized she was merely having a difficult time removing the microphone clip from her lapel.

There were good reasons for my mistake. We were on camera, part of a Google / NBC / Reader live webstream of the returns, and they were adding up to a series of losses for Topinka's Republican colleagues, from the "bloodbath" in the General Assembly to the missed opportunity to get Barack Obama out of the White House.

Throughout the evening our panel of journalists—myself, Marcus Riley of NBC Chicago, and Jen Sabella of DNAinfo—had been visited by several of the last Republicans on earth willing to call themselves "moderate."

First was Congressman Aaron Schock, the charismatic 31-year-old GOP star—the one who's appeared on the cover of Men's Health and might just be increasing his Chicago profile before a 2014 run for statewide office. In the calmest, most approachable way possible, he assured us the Republican platform on abortion and contraception is right where the country is. Even after we jumped on him for not quite being accurate, he stayed cool and talked about bipartisanship, emphasizing that House Republicans are more than willing to let President Obama sign on to their agenda.

Next up was respected former two-term Governor Jim Edgar—one of the leaders of this state who didn't go to prison. Edgar is hardly a leftist, but he guessed that if he were launching his political career today he'd have a hard time winning enough conservative support to survive a statewide primary.

Topinka—or Judy, as she insisted we call her—was even blunter when she sat down and fielded our questions. At 68, after more than three decades in politics, having already lost a 2006 bid for governor to Rod Blagojevich, she didn't seem too worried about offending anyone watching an internet broadcast.

What's the deal with GOP Senate candidates talking about sexual assault as if it's sometimes acceptable? "People who say outrageous things like that shouldn't hold office," she said, her voice deepened and scratched from years of smoking. Gay marriage? Of course—it's a civil rights issue. Medical marijuana? "Why wouldn't we help someone suffering with cancer?" Her greatest frustration with politics? "We need people who. Want. To. Get. Things. Done."

She looked disappointed when her slotted time was up.

We were still live as she tangled with her microphone clip and wire.

"Mick, why don't you give her a hand?" Jen suggested.

The problem area was in close proximity to the comptroller's bosom.

So I told Jen—and anyone else watching—that I didn't want to be at the center of that sort of scandal.

Topinka looked up at me. "Oh, please," she said. "That would be the most exciting thing to happen to me in months."

An aide quickly appeared to help her disengage from the microphone.

Topinka went on to say something about not getting enough attention anymore from "hot young things." She was joking, probably. Everybody laughed.

I'd rank it my favorite Republican pitch of the election season.

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