Now the March Democratic
primary has assumed greater urgency than ever, with
as many as a half-dozen Senate hopefuls crisscrossing
Illinois looking for money, votes and volunteers. They
include Chicago businessman Blair Hull, state Comptroller
Dan Hynes, former Chicago Board of Education chief Gery
Chico, Chicago-based state Sen. Barack Obama and, possibly,
Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas and businesswoman
In addition, Republican Matt O’Shea,
the mayor of the central Illinois town of Metamora,
also says he will run in the Democratic primary.
“The Democrats, as a natural evolution
in the campaign, are getting more focused on what their
story is,” said Chico, a partner in a Chicago
But at this stage, Chico said, he’s
focused on raising money. In the first quarter of 2003,
he reeled in $763,000, bringing his total to nearly
$1.8 million. However, Hynes raised nearly $900,000
in the same period.
Since early April, Chico estimated, he’s
raised an additional $80,000 to $90,000 by hosting events
at homes, law firms, construction firms and restaurants
in Chicago and downstate.
“Restaurants, I visit all of them,”
Chico said. “It doesn’t matter. Sometimes
it’ll be Mexican, Chinese, Italian — whatever.”
One big hurdle facing Chico and other
candidates in the primary is Hull’s wealth. Hull,
a political novice who earlier sold his financial firm,
Blair Hull Trading Co., to Goldman Sachs, has pledged
to spend $20 million of his own money on the primary.
As a result, other candidates may raise
more money than federal regulations permit, as stipulated
by the “millionaire’s amendment” to
the McCain-Feingold law.
The amendment was ruled constitutional
by a federal district court last week in a decision
that will be reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Hull’s money edge has led other
candidates to portray themselves as experienced politicians
who are closer to ordinary voters. Almost all the candidates
say they’re running “grassroots campaigns.”
Hynes frequently points out that he’s
the only candidate in the Democratic field who’s
won statewide office. Obama and Washington are fighting
for the huge cache of black votes in Chicago’s
Southside, and Chico talks school reform.
Hull spokeswoman Susan Lagana said her
candidate may not have government experience but he
does have a colorful background, which includes college
and business school in California, the Army and the
Teamsters. “He even lived on food stamps for a
while,” Lagana said.
Brad Woodhouse, spokesman for the Democratic
Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC), said Democrats
had been fired up about the Senate race before Fitzgerald
announced he wouldn’t run.
The DSCC has spent the past few weeks
attacking ex-Gov. Jim Edgar, considered the GOP’s
best hope for keeping the seat. A recent DSCC press
release, for example, sought to link him with former
GOP Gov. George Ryan’s scandals.
“I think Fitzgerald’s announcement,
you know, has put a lot of pressure on the Republicans
to get a candidate like Jim Edgar in, so I think you
see more activity on their side,” Woodhouse said.
“Our candidates have been going about their business
for a while now. I don’t think anything has changed.”