Chicago Sun-Times - Steve Neal
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Steve Neal

Rauschenberger has the experience, backing

September 19, 2003

BY STEVE NEAL SUN-TIMES COLUMNIST

He's a cut above the GOP pack. Steven J. Rauschenberger, a three-term state senator from Elgin, is launching his campaign on Tuesday for the U.S. Senate seat that is being vacated by his longtime friend Peter G. Fitzgerald.

Rauschenberger, 47, expects to be outspent by four millionaire rivals in the 2004 Republican primary. But as he runs statewide for the first time, he holds several advantages over the Republican field.

He's won tough elections, has a statewide political network, and is an original thinker.

None of his intraparty rivals has held public office. Rauschenberger has been tested in two hard-fought primaries and three competitive general elections. He's undefeated at the polls.

As a 10-year veteran of the Illinois Senate, Rauschenberger has earned respect across party lines. He served with distinction as chairman of the Appropriations Committee and sought to curb the wild spending of former Gov. George Ryan's administration. At the same time, he provided key support for public education and tax reform.

Rauschenberger has also made his mark nationally with his leadership in seeking to eliminate inequities in sales tax systems. He is vice president of the National Conference of State Legislatures and will be testifying before Congress next month.

Among Rauschenberger's admirers is former Gov. Jim Edgar, who has provided him with behind-the-scenes advice for this race. If Edgar had run for the Fitzgerald seat, Rauschenberger would not be a candidate. Edgar doesn't always agree with Rauschenberger but has high regard for his intellect and political skills. If Edgar intervenes in the GOP primary, don't be surprised if he goes for the guy with the long name.

House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Yorkville) also thinks highly of Rauschenberger. Last fall, when Hastert donated more than $1.6 million to Illinois GOP candidates, he enlisted Rauschenberger to help distribute these funds.

Although Hastert is neutral in the senatorial primary, Rauschenberger is his friend and would be an ally in the congressional delegation.

Of the Republicans seeking the nomination to succeed him, Fitzgerald is personally and politically closest to the Elgin legislator. Before entering this race, he sought Fitzgerald's advice. If Fitzgerald is interested in extending his legacy, he could clinch the primary for his friend with an endorsement.

Investment banker Jack Ryan has indicated that he may spend up to $6 million on the GOP senatorial primary, and North Shore executive Andrew McKenna Jr. is also likely to spend big. Perennial candidates James D. Oberweis and John Cox, who are also millionaires, may also outspend Rauschenberger.

But these big spenders don't have Rauschenberger's political network.

As he embarks on his campaign, he has locked in the support of 34 GOP legislators, including Senate Minority Leader Frank Watson of Greenville and Deputy GOP Leader Ed Petka of Plainfield. It's unusual for a first-time statewide candidate to have this much support five months before the primary.

Other senators on his bandwagon include Pamela Althoff of Crystal Lake; Bill Brady of Bloomington; Bradley Burzynski of Sycamore; Dan Cronin of Elmhurst; John O. Jones of Mount Vernon; Wendell E. Jones of Palatine; Chris Lauzen of Aurora; Dave Luechtefeld of Okawville; William E. Peterson of Long Grove; Christine Radogno of LaGrange; Dale Righter of Mattoon; Dale Risinger of Peoria; Peter Roskam of Wheaton; Ray Soden of Wood Dale; Todd Sieben of Geneseo; Dave Sullivan of Mount Prospect; Dave Syverson of Rockford, and Rick Winkel of Champaign.

GOP House members supporting Rauschenberger include Suzanne Bassi of Palatine; Mike Bost of Murphysboro; Renee Kosel of New Lenox; Rosemary Kurtz of Crystal Lake; David R. Leitch of Peoria; Patricia Reid Lindner of Aurora; Eileen Lyons of Western Springs; John J. Millner of Carol Stream; Rosemary Mulligan of Des Plaines; Ruth Munson of Elgin; JoAnn D. Osmond of Antioch; Terry R. Parke of Hoffman Estates, and Jim Sacia of Freeport.

With solid backing from GOP conservative and moderate legislators, Rauschenberger has a very good chance to win his party's nomination for the U.S. Senate. At the very least, he will elevate the level of debate.





 
 












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