CHICAGO – Here I am, at the Chicago Conservative Conference, getting a strong dose of reality.

I am in a conference hall full of conservatives and libertarians who are seething mad. Their governor broke his campaign promise and raised taxes. His administration, reeling from mostly true charges of corruption, is now trying to defend what many believe to be an unconstitutional – and unconscionable – moratorium on capital punishment that the governor unilaterally ordered more than a year ago.

This liberal, big-spending, soft-on-crime governor is: Republican George Ryan.

Illinois has had Republican governors for over two decades. What has it brought the state? Spending growth faster than the growth of personal income in 18 of the past 20 years. Massive tax hikes. Stubbornly high crime rates. Substandard schools. What progress in public policy that has been evident in Illinois in recent years can mostly be found in the city government of Chicago itself, run not by the GOP but by a pro-business Democratic, Richard Daley.

Just before I was to speak to this unhappy but determined audience about my book Investor Politics (a little Social Security privatization, anyone?) four candidates to replace Ryan – three Republicans, one Democrat – took the stage. Only one, state Sen. Patrick O’Malley, was conservative enough for this crowd. “We are in a struggle for the soul of the Republican Party,” he said, his loud voice nearly drowned out by boisterous applause. “This voters of this state have been robbed by an administration that is corrupt.”

Referring to GOP Attorney General Jim Ryan – who foolishly sued Microsoft, turned a blind eye to gruesome infanticides in a local hospital, and turned off this audience by essentially predicting a Democratic takeover of the state legislature — O’Malley said that his primary opponent had “left with his tail between his legs” and would not answer questions about his moderate record. Unlike him, the state senator proudly intoned, “I will not retreat from any freedom contained in the Constitution of the United States – including the Second Amendment.”

O’Malley was passionate, confident, and well-spoken. He was an attractive, principled self-styled “Reagan Republican.”

And by all accounts, his moderate opponent Attorney Gen. Ryan is favored to win the GOP nomination and quite possibly the November election.

North Carolina lovers of liberty should keep this Illinois cautionary tale in mind when their Republican friends tell them how great things will be if the GOP can just return to power in Raleigh. Parties disappoint. Politicians frequently disappoint. And often, good guys finish last.