Perhaps Lake County Republicans aren't endangered species after all. Maybe it's time to retract the characterization I've made in past columns of a minuscule number of conservatives wandering the region.
I said as much to a number of Lake County's GOP leaders Saturday as more than 400 people packed the Halls of St. George in Schererville for the 2014 Republican Lincoln Day Dinner fundraiser, some fronting as much as $250 each for dinner and VIP reception tickets.
Event attendance left me with optimism at least a shadow of a viable two-party system is possible in a region of tax-and-spend liberalism often characterized by graft and political corruption. Typically feuding members of the local GOP were breaking bread en masse at the event, and the red party will need this unity to gain any ground in this county of blue.
But let's not take the optimism too far.
This was just one party fundraiser, and Lake County Democrats will likely hold the upper hand for some time to come. Palpable excitement at a gathering of like-minded folks isn't enough to sway the electorate.
And the numbers were no doubt boosted by the keynote speaker, national GOP strategist and former presidential adviser Karl Rove.
The Republican Party's platforms are by no means infallible. Some state party leaders are amplifying social issues to the detriment of more pressing policy, and national GOP and Democratic leaders are more often daring each other to schoolyard fights than getting down to the public's business.
But what we have now in Lake County is a largely one-party rule, and it's been this way for generations. It's an exceptionally unhealthy condition fostering a sense of entitlement within the party firmly in power. It creates the climate under which seeds of corruption and graft flourish into thick foliage.
While neither party is immune from these negatives -- and while there are good, conscientious Democrats holding some offices in the county -- Republicans need to seize on the kind of momentum present at Saturday's dinner to better all of our chances of a true two-party county system.
Rove brought his no-nonsense, conservative Texan message to bear during Saturday's keynote. He pointed out that even if local GOP candidates don't win office — and state and national candidates don't win Lake County — a healthier GOP voter turnout in the county can divide the Democratic vote and hasten GOP success in higher offices.
But the local GOP should want a whole lot more. The numbers and excitement at Saturday's dinner should serve as the launching point for uniting and discussing methods of bolstering relevance in local government races — ways of reaching out to the electorate.
Relevance isn't achieved when one political party relinquishes races for local government offices without a fight. Of the state, county and municipal seats up for election in 2014, 122 Lake County Democrats to the GOP's 68 filed to run for office by Friday's deadline.
You can't win ground if you don't take the field, and reform won't come from an uncontested party of power.