A long line of Republican candidates for statewide offices descended on the Illinois State Fair on Thursday, only to be overshadowed by the announcement that the state party chairman was resigning. Andy McKenna told the Republican State Central Committee that he was stepping down now rather than wait for his term to expire in the spring after the February primary.

A long line of Republican candidates for statewide offices descended on the Illinois State Fair on Thursday, only to be overshadowed by the announcement that the state party chairman was resigning.

Andy McKenna told the Republican State Central Committee that he was stepping down now rather than wait for his term to expire in the spring after the February primary. McKenna said he wasn't planning to run again and that it was better to make the switch now before the primary election season swings into high gear.

"I just feel like we're changing hats to get the team organized to have more wins," McKenna told reporters after announcing his resignation Thursday morning to both the state central committee and county chairmen at a Springfield hotel.

Although Republicans had 60 days to hold an election for McKenna's replacement, they voted Thursday to name Pat Brady of Chicago as the new party chairman.

"Andy did the right thing," Brady said. "He saw that if you are going to make a change you have to make it now before you get into the primary. We're not going to skip a beat."

But McKenna's decision to resign Thursday left a sour taste for some Republicans gathered at the fair.

"I think it is very poor timing on Mr. McKenna's part to overshadow the candidates on Republican day," said Greg Baise, president of the Illinois Manufacturers' Association.

"He could have waited 24 hours, let the candidates have their day at the fair and made his announcement. I think maybe this puts a punctuation mark on, what should we say, (was) certainly not a stellar tenure as leader of the Republican Party," Baise said.

"There are always people on two sides of every issue," McKenna said of complaints about the timing of his announcement.

McKenna's taken fire from some conservatives for steering the party in the wrong direction. Democrats now hold every statewide office, a supermajority of seats in the Illinois Senate and a commanding 70-48 seat edge in the House.

McKenna said he only made the decision to step down in the last few days. He insisted he was not pressured to step aside.

"It just became clear to me that if I wasn't going to run for re-election this is a better time for transition," McKenna said.

"It's August, most people are on vacation," Brady said. "If you are going to make the switch, this is a good time to do it."

McKenna said he's "made no plans" to run for office himself.

McKenna's been chairman since January 2005. He told Republican leaders he's leaving the party in good shape, both financially and in terms of grassroots organization.

Brady is a former federal prosecutor and lawyer who lives in Chicago. He has been the party's national committeeman since last year, replacing Bob Kjellander.

McKenna said he didn't push Brady or any other candidate but said it's good to have a replacement so quickly.

"I didn't have a top candidate but I think he's a great choice," McKenna said.

Rank and file Republicans at the traditional state fair rally got to see their candidates for office, but not hear from them. Party leaders decided to simply parade the candidates across the stage, rather than allowing each of them to make speeches. It kept the program shorter and avoided the spectacle of Republicans attacking each other on Republican day.

The potential for that was illustrated Thursday when Sen. Matt Murphy, R-Palatine, began airing a TV ad that takes an indirect swipe at Sen. Kirk Dillard, R-Hinsdale. Both Dillard and Murphy are seeking the Republican nomination for governor.

The ad has Murphy talking about "one of my Republican opponents" and links that opponent to Cook County Board Chairman Todd Stroger and former Gov. Rod Blagojevich. It criticizes the vote to issue bonds to meet pension costs.

Dillard said the pension bond vote saved taxpayers $2 billion.

"If Matt Murphy wants to waste $2 billion of taxpayer money, then I don't think you want him controlling the governorship," Dillard said.

Doug Finke can be reached at (217) 788-1527 or doug.finke@sj-r.com. Ryan Keith can be reached at (217) 788-1518 or ryan.keith@sj-r.com.