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Senate hopefuls vie for black vote

August 5, 2003

BY SCOTT FORNEK Political Reporter

The gloves are off.

In one of the first clashes among the Democrats running for U.S. Senate, state Sen. Barack Obama took a swing Monday at millionaire investor M. Blair Hull over radio spots Hull is airing to cut into Obama's African American base.

Running on stations popular with black listeners, the commercials feature Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) touting Hull as "an independent voice who will make sure that we get our fair share."

But Obama, one of two African Americans in the race, fired back by characterizing Hull as a political newcomer trying to buy support while Obama has a record of fighting for voters of all races.

"The nice thing about actually having a track record of service in the community is that you don't have to pay for all of it," Obama said. "Whether the message is coming from Bobby Rush or anybody else, one would be hard-pressed to believe that an individual who has never worked on issues important to the African American community during the first 60 years of his life has suddenly discovered these issues."

A Hull aide called it "the proverbial glove slap in the face."

Hull and Obama are among nine Democrats running or considering jumping in the contest to succeed Republican Sen. Peter Fitzgerald.

Hull, 60, who has pledged to pump $40 million of his own money into the race, launched the $30,000 weeklong radio campaign just two weeks after Rush signed on as his campaign chairman. Rush has insisted his support for Hull is not payback for Obama's unsuccessful congressional challenge to Rush in 2000.

"Blair Hull, like me, comes from a working-class family and served in the Army," Rush says in the 60-second commercial. "Blair Hull, like me, is committed to affordable health care, improving schools so our children can get a fair shake and creating jobs to bring stability back into our communities."

Hull spokeswoman Susan Lagana defended Hull's commitment to black voters.

"Blair Hull has committed early to reaching out to the African American community, and I guess it has touched a nerve," she said. "He is not going to concede any vote and not take anyone for granted."

Healthcare executive Joyce Washington is the only other African American in the race. Other announced or potential Democratic candidates include former Chicago School Board President Gery Chico, state Comptroller Dan Hynes, Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas, radio personality Nancy Skinner, Metamora Mayor Matt O'Shea and retired coal miner Vic Roberts.

The Democratic sparring came as Republican Senate hopeful John Cox announced he will begin a statewide fund-raising effort with a television commercial on Rockford cable stations this week. In the ad, Cox calls on 100,000 voters to pony up $20 a piece for his campaign to take the "big-money special interests" out of politics.

"You can't have it both ways," Cox said of his unorthodox move. "You're either going to contribute $20 to this campaign and help out and be part of the solution or we're going to have politicians who just beg for money all the time from rich people and special interests."

Rival Andy McKenna Jr., who raised more from outside donors than any other GOP candidate this year, shrugged off Cox's ploy. McKenna said that more than a third of his own contributors gave $25 or less.

"We're pleased with our progress, and we're not concerned about his approach," McKenna said.

Other announced or potential GOP candidates include former investment banker turned teacher Jack Ryan, dairy and investment magnate Jim Oberweis, physician-turned businessman Dr. Chirinjeev Kathuria, Lt. Gov. Corinne Wood, former state Sen. Patrick J. O'Malley, state Sen. Steve Rauschenberger, RTA Chairman Thomas McCracken, retired Air Force Major Gen. John Borling and former state Rep. Jonathan Wright.


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