ZAHM: GOP Senate Nomination Up for Grabs

Wednesday, July 09, 2003

By Jon Zahm (

Four of the eight candidate who appeared before the Chicago Conservative Conference in May -- Ray Choudhry from Moline, Tom McCracken from Chicago suburbs, John Borling from Rockford, and John Cox from Chicago suburbs
Four more possible candidates at the Chicago Conservative Conference -- Steve Rauschenberger, Chirinjeev Kathuria, Jack Ryan and Jim Durkin.
Andrew McKenna, Jr did not appear at the Chicago Conservative Conference. Along with his family, he announced in June his intention to join the U.S. Senate race.
Jim Oberweis is expected to announce sometime in July. Oberweis attended the Chicago Conservative Conference early in the day, but was not available for the forum at noon.
OPINION -- There are five candidates for United States Senate that appear to be in the race to stay, and at least three candidates still seriously exploring the possibility of seeking Illinois' Republican nomination for U.S. Senate. Other wild cards may emerge. I would like to give a thumbnail sketch of a victory scenario for each candidate because I truly believe any one of the prospective candidates can be the winner in a multi-candidate field.

I have some personal preferences, but let?s leave those aside. Since I will likely choose to work for one of these campaigns, I would like to present this analysis now, before I have any stake in a particular candidate winning.

Here goes, in alphabetical order by category:

Off and Running:

John Cox: Though Cox finished third in the 2000 U.S. Senate GOP primary, he did win 23 counties and garnered about a quarter of the vote -- a formidable number in what can become a five, six, or seven candidate field.

Cox is improved on the stump, has the tightest, most conservative message right now, and can tout a CPA and a jobs-creating private sector background. He is tenacious and fearless and has taken a lead on the corruption-fighting issue by calling for the resignation of Judy Baar-Topinka as GOP State Chairman.

Dr. Chirinjeev Kathuria: You cannot tell a man who has achieved the amazing success of Dr. Kathuria that he cannot win this primary. He has built some wildly successful companies, has become a medical doctor, has helped launch a private citizen into space and more.

This campaign can add tens of thousands of new voters into the Republican Primary. The Indian-American voting bloc, normally heavily Democrat, will cross over in large numbers. Other minority groups, Asian-Americans, African-Americans, Hispanics, may all find some excitement in this ground-breaking campaign. As a medical doctor, Kathuria would become only the second U.S. Senator with that important background, relevant in health care policy and bio-terrorism response.

Andrew McKenna, Jr: By making moves to run, even if Sen. Peter Fitzgerald did not decide to retire, McKenna made some serious friends in the pro-O?Hare community and among moderates. At the same time, that hurts him with reform Republicans and some social conservatives. He is well-connected in the business community and in the Chicago bi-partisan power structure.

McKenna has made some outreach to conservatives by professing pro-life and not calling for new gun laws. If he can continue an effective straddle between right and moderate elements in the party, and if he raises and spends at pace with the others, he?s definitely in the mix to win.

Jim Oberweis: Finished second to Jim Durkin and above Cox in the 2000 GOP U.S. Senate primary with support from U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert. Oberweis ran very well in vote-rich collar counties. The Oberweis name on the ice cream stores and milk delivery trucks is very helpful.

Also, Oberweis has proven to be very successful in the financial markets as an analyst and advisor, an expertise that should not be underrated in value in today?s economy. He showed a strong ability to fund raise in 2000 and a willingness and ability to infuse personal funds. Oberweis has come back this year looking trim, rested, and ready. If he can maintain anything near the 31% he got last time, he?s well-positioned in a multi-candidate race.

Jack Ryan: On paper, Jack Ryan is probably the frontrunner in this field. He has the money, the good looks, and a great personal story to tell -- a great education, then took off to a refugee camp as a volunteer. Back in the U.S., he built a very successful career in the investment banking sector and retired early to teach in an inner-city African-American high school.

The Ryan name is not going to hurt him as some say. The Republican primary voter knows the difference and this Ryan campaign will have an easy way to contrast the corruption tainted name with a whole new paradigm. This campaign, perhaps more than any other, will be defined by the risks it takes and how successful those decisions are. They can?t be too cautious or they will squander the opportunity to get out front of the field and stay out front.

The "Maybes":

Gen. John Borling: Talk about great stories, General Borling is the John McCain of Illinois. There is no better time than now to call on a military expert to take a leadership role in our political system. His connections to both Chicago and Rockford give him a nice two-pronged base. Gen. Borling can probably summon a lot of prominent national leaders to come speak on his behalf.

The plain speaking he showed at the Chicago Conservative Conference has some appeal, but perhaps was a little too tough for some. He also has a success record and contacts in the Chicago philanthropic community that will definitely help. If he does not run, the others should race to his door to try to bring him into their camp.

Tom McCracken: Here?s a candidate that performed particularly well from the stage at the Chicago Conservative Conference and the Illinois Leader gala. He brings a great conservative legislative record as a former State Representative and Senator. McCracken took on Lee Daniels before it was cool to do so. He hails from vote rich DuPage County, like Kathuria, a good place to come from in a Republican primary.

As RTA head, McCracken has some significant executive experience, too. With the tacit backing of Pate Philip, and the other factors, you cannot count McCracken out.

Sen. Steve Rauschenberger (R-Elgin): Elected as a grassroots conservative in an upset primary in 1992 over a RINO Republican State Representative trying to move up, Sen. Rauschenberger has probably best exemplified George W. Bush compassionate conservatism in Illinois. While not compromising on pro-life and pro-Second Amendment issues, he has been a real champion of the disabled and special needs communities, early childhood education, and quality social service agencies. He has a real populist appeal to him. He?s never been afraid to sling the newspaper bag over his shoulder to help his son get the route delivered or walk door-to-door for himself or other Republicans.

A budget guru, Rauschenberger, with Sen. Chris Lauzen (R-Aurora), have been steady and articulate critics of many of the smoke and mirror tactics of taxing and spending in Springfield. Sen. Rauschenberger is poised to run the ?Durkin model? of raising and spending less campaign, but piggy-backing on colleagues? House and Senate political operations throughout Illinois. It already worked once.

Others who would become instant contenders in this multi-candidate field would be Justice Bob Thomas, DuPage County Board Chairman Bob Schillerstrom, State Senator Dan Cronin (R-Elmhurst), or any Illinois Republican Congressman. However, due to the cost of buy-in and the risk of losing an already earned political position, I think we will end up with the first five above, plus one out of the second category.

It?s going to be a great contest.


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Jon Zahm
Jon Zahm, a political consultant and activist in Illinois since 1987 is the President of Goliath Slayer Communications, a political and non-profit consulting firm.