GOP candidates begin to kick the dust

Monday, August 25, 2003

By The Leader-Champaign/Urbana Bureau (cu@illinoisleader.com)

U.S. Senate candidates Jim Oberweis, Jack Ryan, Andy McKenna and soon-to-announce Steve Rauschenberger addressed the Illinois Forum luncheon on Saturday in Champaign.
 
Illinois Forum President Bob Redfern hosted the luncheon where six of the seven candidates merged. In the middle, Chirinjeev Kathuria and right, General John Borling.
CHAMPAIGN -- On Saturday, six GOP candidates for U.S. Senate merged on an east central Illinois university town to finally begin kicking the dust among competitors.

Over the past two months, the GOP candidates have heard each other address audiences several times. From the Conservative Conference in May to the Illinois Leader first anniversary gathering in June to the Republican Assembly of Lake County's forum and the Illinois State Fair two weeks ago to this past Saturday's panel at Champaign-based Illinois Forum, the U.S. Senate candidates have learned each other's spiels fairly well.

The current behind-the-scenes "smack" talk going on among the candidates and their supporters isn't publicly displayed -- yet.

On Saturday, the candidates continued their public politeness, but those who have followed the progression of these panels noted a little more edginess in the candidates' stump speeches at the Round Barn Restaurant in Champaign.

Bob Redfern, the longtime conservative powerhouse in central Illinois, hosted the annual banquet and was pleased with the fact that the candidates made the effort to introduce themselves to the annual fundraiser attendees.

"We are very happy to have six out of the seven GOP candidates with us today," Redfern told the group before the candidates spoke. "I don't know of a better lineup of candidates than I've seen in years," Redfern said. "Gentlemen, I will be with you all the way, whoever comes out the candidate -- you can bet your bottom dollar on that."

Redfern called all candidates forward to draw numbers to determine the order in which they would address the group. Jack Ryan, who arrived after the order was determined, was spontaneously asked by Redfern to address the group first, despite the fact he missed the place drawing. Raised eyebrows were noticed throughout the audience, many curious as to why Ryan was asked to speak first.

Investor-turned-teacher Ryan didn't seem to notice the crowd's response as he laid out his three reasons for running for U.S. Senate: To continue to fight the war on terrorism by "seek[ing] out those who would harm us and our children, and destroy them"; To make sure everyone has a chance at a high quality of life and a decent job by insuring the U.S. has "a free and open economy"; To provide an education that will allow the next generation to move from the a "braun and hand" economy to an "information age".

John Cox's representative Bill Hogan, a member of Illinois Forum's board of directors, succinctly outlined Cox's position on several issues: his support of the federal marriage amendment, his support of the Second Amendment (in particular favoring the conceal and carry law), his promotion of school choice and his position against abortion in all cases (including rape and incest).

Ryan, in contrast, does not support the federal marriage amendment, does not favor conceal and carry laws, and holds the rape and incest exception on the issue of abortion.

[Editor's note: After this story was published, the Leader received a call from the Ryan campaign saying that the Leader should clarify what the Ryan campaign termed as a "mischaracterization" of Jack Ryan's position on the federal marriage amendment and the conceal and carry law as originally published in this story. To quote the campaign, "Jack Ryan defines marriage as between one man and one woman -- period -- the end. He has previously stated that he would, in fact, be supportive of the federal marriage amendment so long as the wording is strong enough to prevent legislation that would otherwise undermine it."

As for the Leader's statement on the conceal and carry law, "Jack Ryan believes that gun control is a failed policy and that that right to carry laws are best pursued at the state level, as they have successfully been in 38 states. Jack believes it is not politically viable to talk about a federal right to carry law." Our sincere apologies for misrepresenting Ryan's position on these issues.]

Hogan emphasized Cox's desire to be a "grassroots-financed, grassroots-run and grassroots-elected" candidate, attempting to differ attorney/CPR Cox from four other GOP candidates who are considered contenders because of their ability to spend millions of their own dollars in the campaign.

Dr. Chirinjeev Kathuria, a practicing, turban-wearing Sikh, disarmed the central state crowd with immediate reference to his appearance, saying that "America is a place where a man as distinquished-looking as myself could rise to be a leader." Kathuria, whose family came to America from India when he was eight months old, told the crowd he was bringing in a new crop of voters to the GOP primary election. Wealthy Indian voters, who normally vote with the Democrats, have endorsed him for U.S. Senate.

The technology entrepeneur said that Social Security and health care needed to be reformed, and as a physician, he would give a needed perspective to leading reform and insight to the war on bio-terrorism.

Jim Oberweis told the crowd that he was the current front runner in the race according to a recent CBS poll indicating his lead at 22 percent over Ryan at 16 percent and Cox at 13. Oberweis challenged the crowd to evaluate the panel of candidates before them with the thought of "Who can win in November?"

Saying that the candidate that must be able to defeat the Democrat "to avoid what happened last fall," Oberweis told the group, "I am pro-life, have been my whole life, and am a strong supporter of the Second Amendment."

Oberweis said that this year would be similar to the rebound experienced by Republicans after the Goldwater defeat in 1964, saying, "This will be a Republican year, and we will have a Republican senator from Illinois. I will do everything I can to make sure that happens."

The fifth candidate to address the crowd was businessman Andy McKenna. McKenna responded to Illinois Forum board member Chad Koppie's challenge to the Senate candidates to stand by their principles, even when they are unpopular. McKenna thanked Koppie for his words, and said that the current U.S. Senator Peter Fitzgerald is a man who "stands on his principles." McKenna has been criticized by some conservatives for considering challenging Fitzgerald for his seat before Fitzgerald announced his intentions not to seek re-election.

McKenna then turned to the current race, telling the crowd about his grandfather's entrepeneurship in creating horseshoes with rubber backing to quiet the sound of milk deliveries and provide traction to horses' hoofs in Chicago winters. The crowd laughed when dairyman Jim Oberweis cheered and McKenna acknowledged that his grandfather's horseshoes were placed on Oberweis Dairy horses two generations ago.

McKenna's message, like the others, was overall positive, but McKenna, a graduate of Notre Dame University, made a subtle swipe at Dartmouth/Harvard-educated Jack Ryan saying that he (McKenna) did not need to go to "fancy economic schools" to learn how to bring economic prosperity to Illinois.

"I go to the people of Illinois, they know what it takes to bring jobs to their area," McKenna told the crowd. Saying he will be holding twenty or more job summits throughout the state and one in Quincy on Monday, McKenna emphasized the need to build up Illinois' infrastructure to strengthen the jobs market and open opportunity in Illinois.

Two thus-far unannounced candidates -- State Senator Steve Rauschenberger and U.S. Air Force General John Borling -- also addressed the crowd. Rauschenberger touted himself as the only candidate with who is an elected official with a verifiable legislative record.

Borling, who is announcing his candidacy next week, said that he was "not running for school board," and that we needed to focus on national issues, not local issues. Borling, the only pro-choice candidate in the group, did not mention the fact to the staunchly pro-life Illinois Forum crowd. The former POW had declared his pro-choice position to the group at a previous meeting.

Other notables who addressed the crowd were Senator Fitzgerald's Chief of Staff Maggie Hickey and her father, former Congressman and former Secretary of Veterans Affairs Ed Derwinski. The two spoke in place of Senator Fitzgerald, who was billed by Illinois Forum to be the keynote speaker. A family commitment prevented Fitzgerald from addressing the downstate group.

"After hearing those candidates, it just makes me proud to be a Republican," one lady said as she was leaving. "I couldn't tell you today who I would vote for, they all have excellent qualifications. I just hope they stay as positive as they were today."

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