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Steve Neal

Senate debate yields 4 standouts

October 17, 2003

BY STEVE NEAL SUN-TIMES COLUMNIST

Democrats Gery Chico and Barack Obama and Republicans Jack Ryan and Andrew McKenna Jr. were the winners in the first televised debate of the 2004 U.S. Senate race.

In this joint appearance with seven other candidates at the Illinois NAACP/Fox News forum, these four demonstrated the most solid grasp of the issues, and each did a good job of outlining their legislative agenda.

Chico, former president of the Chicago Board of Education, is still at single digits in the polls but will do better if he gets more exposure on prime time.

Not surprisingly, Chico makes the most compelling argument for improving public education across the state. He advocates a repeal of the Bush tax cuts for the top 1 percent and directing these revenues to schools and health care. Chico wants to reduce unemployment by creating public works jobs to rebuild the nation's infrastructure.

Obama, the earliest critic of the Iraq War among those vying for Sen. Peter Fitzgerald's seat, has set the agenda for the foreign policy debate throughout this contest and did so again the other night. He lamented that the Bush administration is spending too much money on the reconstruction of Iraq and not enough in "rebuilding here at home."

State Comptroller Dan Hynes, the Democratic front-runner, missing in action when Obama questioned Bush's decision to intervene in Iraq, says now that the American people "are paying the price in terms of lives lost and dollars spent." Hynes is critical of the administration for not having an exit policy.

Hynes, who is leading in the Democratic polls, didn't do badly in the televised debate, but Chico and Obama had more presence and seemed more in command.

Commodities millionaire Blair Hull tried to say that he was angry with President Bush's tax cuts, but he showed no fury. If a candidate doesn't show passion, his talking points won't help him. Hynes more than held his own with the big-spending Hull.

On the GOP side, Ryan was most effective in vowing to promote equal access to quality education. Ryan, who gave up his job as an investment banker to teach at an inner-city school, has a good story to tell and has the potential to expand his party's political base. Ryan said that he is tired of public officials who give lip service to reform but say "not right now."

McKenna, president of the Schwarz Paper Co. in Morton Grove, vowed if elected to use his senatorial seat to promote Illinois jobs and economic growth. Although he is a supporter of the North American Free Trade Agreement, McKenna said that the trade pact has been abused. He said he is in favor of exporting goods, not jobs, and would work as senator to protect Illinois jobs.

Retired Gen. John Borling, a former fighter pilot and Vietnam prisoner of war, came across as thoughtful and the most socially moderate of the GOP contenders.

The Illinois NAACP deserves credit for sponsoring this forum, which was ably moderated by Walter Jacobson and Robin Robinson of Fox News Chicago.

State Sen. Steve Rauschenberger (R-Elgin) was misguided in withdrawing from this joint appearance after the NAACP excluded fringe candidates Chirinjeev Kathuria and Antonio Davis-Fairman. Rauschenberger, who will have a smaller war chest than Ryan or McKenna, shouldn't be giving up free air time.

The NAACP isn't obligated to provide a forum for candidates whose support is nonexistent. Davis-Fairman has since dropped out. Kathuria, who accused the NAACP of betraying its principles in excluding him, is on an ego trip.

As the front-runner, Hynes is limiting his participation in these forums. He declined an invitation to a forum scheduled next week at Northwestern University that was to have been co-sponsored by the College Democrats and Democratic Party of Evanston. After Hynes turned them down, the debate was postponed.

Nancy Skinner, the syndicated radio talk show host, who is among Hynes' rivals, said that his bashfulness is no reason to cancel this debate. She's right.





 
 











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