With 17 months to go before
Election Day, Republicans, already tainted by former
GOP Gov. George Ryan’s scandals, must now fight
a costly, uphill battle to hold the seat.
“They kind of had that head start
because they were getting ready even when Fitzgerald
was in the race,” Illinois Republican Party spokesman
Jason Gerwig said of the Democrats.
“But the Republican side is coming
together. Jack Ryan has announced. Andrew McKenna is
in the race. It looks like Jim Oberweis is in the race.”
Ryan, 43, is a former investment banker.
McKenna, 46, runs Schwarz Paper Co. And Oberweis, 57,
heads Oberweis Dairy, Oberweis Asset Management and
the Oberweis Funds.
None has ever held office. By contrast,
the Illinois Democrats running for Senate include state
Comptroller Dan Hynes and state Sen. Barack Obama.
Not that all the Republicans are without
political experience. Oberweis ran unsuccessfully for
the GOP nomination last year to take on Democratic Sen.
Richard Durbin. The Republican has said he’ll
make up his mind by the end of the month.
Oberweis added that he would “commit
a minimum of seven figures” to the contest. But
before he jumps into the race, one of only two open
seats in the country in 2004, he said that he needs
to gauge how much money and how many shock troops he
One other factor that may be weighing
on Oberweis’s mind is whether Speaker Dennis Hastert
(R-Ill.) will back him in the primary, as he did when
Oberweis ran for the Senate nomination last year.
He declined to say if Hastert is supporting
him this time. John Feehery, Hastert’s spokesman,
said the Speaker has yet to get behind a candidates.
Republicans Steve Rauschenberger, a state
senator; James Durkin, a former state senator and the
winner of last year’s GOP Senate primary; and
Corinne Wood, a former lieutenant governor, also have
been mentioned by state Republicans as possible contenders.
None has made an announcement about running.
McKenna had indicated his interest in
running in the primary before Fitzgerald said he’d
be stepping down and voiced optimism about Republican
efforts to keep the seat.
“What interested me in the race
then [before Fitzgerald’s announcement] and interests
me in the race now is the Republican Party in Illinois
needs to be a leader in how you build prosperity, and
I just felt, as a party, we weren’t focusing on
those ideas,” he said.
Tax incentives for companies to invest
in technology, for example, would help give rise to
more small and midsize businesses such as Schwarz Paper,
which employs 400 people, he said.
McKenna also called for lifting the limits
on 401(k) accounts to help workers better prepare for
Oberweis offered no substantive criticism
of the Republicans who have announced their candidacies,
but he said he is the only one who can win the general
election, calling McKenna an “unknown” and
saying former Gov. George Ryan’s name would prove
fatal to Jack Ryan’s candidacy, as it did to Jim
Ryan’s gubernatorial bid last year.
“Through no fault of his own, he
has the wrong name to run in Illinois in 2004,”
Oberweis said of Jack Ryan, who is unrelated to the
Jack Ryan dismissed concerns about voters’
mistaking him for George Ryan, asserting that more often
than not people associate him with the hero of Tom Clancy’s
novels, including The Hunt for Red October and Patriot
Games, than with Illinois politicians.
The former Goldman Sachs partner and current
inner-city high school teacher also said he’d
be aggressively courting poor, urban voters who had
been let down by Democrats.
“They’ve had their chance
for 35 years,” he said. “Now give us our
chance.” Ryan said a viable candidate would need
$3 million to $4 million for the primary.
His proposals include eliminating the
capital-gains tax — “a tax on capital is
the ultimate oxymoron in a capitalist economy”
— and offering scholarships to low-income students.
Ryan, who holds law and business degrees
from Harvard, added that the filibuster should be jettisoned
to make sure all judicial nominees get an up-or-down
vote on the Senate floor.
All three leading GOP contenders said
they respected Fitzgerald but would work better with
the Illinois congressional delegation. Some members
have said they felt alienated by his opposition to pet
projects in their districts — for example, an
upgrade of Chicago’s O’Hare International
Although Democrats say the Senate race
is theirs to lose, Republicans contend that by galvanizing
their base downstate, reaching out to minorities in
Chicago and campaigning tirelessly in the collar counties
surrounding the city, they can hold the seat.
The Republicans also say businessmen who
have spent years creating wealth and jobs can do more
to revivify the economy than lifelong politicians who
have never managed a payroll or hired or fired employees.
Not all the Democrats in the race have
spent the bulk of their careers in government. Blair
Hull ran a financial trading company in Chicago; attorney
Gery Chico is chairman of the Chicago law firm Altheimer
and Gray; and John Simmons is a personal-injury lawyer
in the Illinois suburbs of St. Louis.