Thursday was Republican Day at the fair, and the big event was the Republican Day Rally at noon with U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka and the party's candidates for Illinois governor.
Those candidates include state Sens. Bill Brady and Kirk Dillard, businessman Bruce Rauner and Illinois Treasurer Dan Rutherford.
Kirk encouraged fellow Illinois Republicans to look to his example and "never give up" in their quest to rebuild the party. Kirk suffered partial paralysis as a result of the January 2012 stroke. He took the stage with the help of his four-pronged cane as attendees cheered. Kirk says Republicans' stance on fiscally conservative values will help protect Illinois from fiscal insolvency.
Party leaders vowed to recapture the governor's mansion and key congressional races to try and end years of Democratic control.
State comptroller Judy Baar Topinka said the state is adrift and in financially dire straits in Democratic hands and urged attendees to campaign hard in the months ahead.
State Sen. Bill Brady brought his running shoes to the meeting in Springfield. The Bloomington Republican is making his third bid for governor after losing to Gov. Pat Quinn by less than 1 percent in 2010. But Quinn cracked Wednesday that his win left Brady "looking for his running shoes."
Brady told attendees Thursday that it was "game on" for the Republican Party, pledging to finish the job he started
He says it's difficult for a candidate to get his name out on a statewide level. After his previous bids, he said he has the name recognition that's needed to win.
Rutherford said he has the statewide connections to win the state's crowded GOP primary.
He told attendees that "a great part of success is just showing up."
The former state senator from Chenoa says he's been to dinners, events and meetings throughout the state making connections with different communities and ethnic groups.
He also touted his success in winning a statewide race as treasurer and says he understands the importance of earning enough votes in the city of Chicago.
But Dillard said he has experience that money can't buy. As the former chief of staff to Gov. Jim Edgar, Dillard said he understands Illinois better than the three other primary candidates.
He said as governor he'd work with the Legislature so the debt-laden state can begin to live within its means.
Dillard lost a 2010 primary challenge to Bloomington state Sen. Bill Brady by 193 votes.
He says he showed how to unify the party by quickly moving to endorse Brady.
But Rauner turned heads when he rolled up to the fair on a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, appearing as an "every man" while promising to shake things up in Springfield.
The Winnetka venture capitalist said Republicans have come through the most challenging period in history. He wants to increase fundraising, recruiting and change the party's message.
The party is coming off major losses in 2012, as well as a recent gay marriage flap that eventually prompted the resignation of former Illinois GOP Chairman Pat Brady.