DECATUR, Ill. — The campaign language of party leaders at the Illinois Republican Party Convention here Saturday mirrored that of the national Democratic Party that the chief executive has got to go.

But in this case, GOP leaders were talking about Gov. Rod Blagojevich, not President Bush.

Senate Minority leader Frank Watson, R-Greenville, said Republicans have Blagojevich, a Chicago Democrat, to thank for uniting his party.

“We thank you, Governor Blagojevich, for everything you’ve done to organize us!” Watson said before the assembled delegates.

But even though the governor’s term won’t expire until 2010, some members of the Republican Party have already stated their aspirations for taking the spot.

Among those who have hinted at a run are state Sen. Dan Rutherford of Chenoa, who has expressed interest in a statewide office, and state Sen. Bill Brady of Bloomington, who ran an unsuccessful primary bid against Judy Baar Topinka in 2006.

Brady said he has been asked to speak at many events and sees himself as being in a leadership role going into 2010, though he said it is too soon to make any announcements.

House Minority Leader Tom Cross said it is important not only to fight for the governor’s office, but for control of the General Assembly.

“We need to have a different person as governor, and I don’t know who it’s going to be, but it has to be a Republican,” Cross said.

Watson said no matter who captures the Republican nomination for governor, he hopes for unity within the party.

“I don’t want to see a divided or divisive primary where we just spend money, split the party, and nothing gets accomplished,” Watson said.

While some were looking toward 2010, Republicans have a more immediate fight on their hands in November now that Barack Obama has secured the Democratic nomination for president. His emergence this week is expected to draw more Democrats to the polls.

Despite the likelihood of what he called a “favorite son effect” for Obama, Illinois Republican Party Chairman Andy McKenna said Democrats have a tough record to defend.

“People come to me, particularly reporters, saying, geez isn’t it hard, Senator Obama’s going to be on the top of the ticket here in Illinois,” McKenna said. “I say to them, it gives us both the opportunity and the responsibility to say to people ‘what does Democratic leadership mean?’”

Brady said Obama’s liberal stance could also be a weak point.

“There’s a great number of people in this state who do not agree with what Barack Obama believes in,” Brady said.

In addition to looking forward to the November election and beyond, attendees at the state convention Saturday elected Pat Brady of St. Charles as national committeeman and Demetra Demonte of Pekin as national committeewoman.

Kenneth Lowe can be contacted at Kenneth.lowe@lee.net or (217) 789-0865.