Illinois Senate Democratic primary
For months, the Democratic primary race to succeed
retiring Illinois Republican Sen. Peter Fitzgerald has been strictly
ballroom — candidates methodically raising cash, piling up
endorsements and mingling with union leaders, trial lawyers and
CEOs from Carbondale to Chicago’s Navy Pier.
But in recent weeks, that’s all changed, as
the tempo of the race — one of only two open Senate contests
in 2004 — has accelerated and the waltz has started looking
more like a rave.
First, Altheimer & Gray, the Chicago law firm
run by candidate Gery Chico, shut down, prompting rivals to question
Chico’s business acumen.
Then John Simmons, the only downstate Democrat in
the race, dropped out — less than two months after jumping
in — and endorsed state Comptroller Dan Hynes.
Then came the second-quarter Federal Election Commission
(FEC) fundraising reports, widely considered crucial barometers
of candidates’ viability.
“We have hit all our marks, and we’re
on track to reach our goals,” state Sen. Barack Obama said
in a statement, more or less echoing all the other Democratic candidates.
Senate candidates’ financial reports will trickle in to the
FEC in the next several days.
Taking a swipe at multimillionaire businessman Blair
Hull, among others, Obama added: “We can’t write a million-dollar
check like a lot of the candidates in this race. But they can’t
buy a record on the issues that matter to people across our state,
like expanded health care, more job opportunities and tax relief
for those who need it most.”
Curiously, Obama’s statement didn’t say
how much he raised from April 1 to June 30. Instead, it said he
had just under $1 million in the bank and had raised more than $1.4
million since entering the race, months earlier.
Hull, who has a limited fundraising operation consisting
of $100 contributions, countered that his money will buy him independence.
He has said he may spend as much as $40 million to get to Washington.
“The wealth gives me an advantage to …
challenge the status quo,” Hull said. “I’m not
beholden to anybody.”
Democrats and Republicans scoff at that contention,
noting that Hull had sought the 5th Congressional District seat
last year but was dissuaded from doing so by Chicago Mayor Richard
Daley. Daley backed former Clinton aide Rahm Emanuel, who went on
Hull, 60, added that Hynes, who turns 35 next week,
lacks “wisdom” and “lifetime experience.”
And he took aim at Hynes’ “family connections,”
suggesting the candidate is not his own man.
Hynes’ father, Thomas Hynes, is the 19th Ward
Democratic committeeman and a member of the Democratic National
Committee. The candidate’s brother, Matthew Hynes, was Al
Gore’s Illinois campaign manager in 2000.
Dismissing suggestions that he is the “establishment
candidate,” Hynes pointed out that as state comptroller he
had fought for a rainy day fund and taken on pork-barrel spending.
Last spring, to avert fiscal disaster, the comptroller
refused to pay for $100 million in state lawmakers’ pet projects.
The move outraged politicians in both parties. Hynes easily won
reelection in November.
“I don’t think there’s anyone who
would question my honesty,” said Hynes, whom many Democrats
consider the frontrunner in the primary.
Hynes, who is strongly backed by trial lawyers across
the state, was vague when it came to tort reform, which Republicans
in Washington have indicated they plan to make a campaign issue
“I believe that we have to find a way to eliminate
frivolous lawsuits … but caps don’t eliminate frivolous
lawsuits,” Hynes said. “I have an open mind. I want
to make sure I hear all sides of an issue.”
Hynes spokeswoman Chris Mather said Tuesday that her
candidate had reeled in $930,000 in the second quarter, bringing
his total cash on hand to $1.54 million.
Fitzgerald, a freshman Republican who alienated many
in his party, said he’d support the eventual Republican nominee.
Fitzgerald left open the possibility he might endorse a Republican
before primary voters go to the polls in March.
The senator called Republican businessman-turned-teacher
Jack Ryan and businessman Jim Oberweis strong candidates. He did
not mention the third major GOP contender, paper company head Andy
McKenna, who planned to challenge Fitzgerald in a primary before
Fitzgerald bowed out in April.