Handicapping the Republican U.S. Senate Candidates Print
Commentary/Politics - Illinois Politics
Tuesday, 09 September 2003 18:00
This seems like a good time to rate the various U.S. Senate candidates. Let’s start with the Republicans. • Jack Ryan – A handsome multi-millionaire with three Ivy League degrees, quit his investment-banking career and went to work as a teacher in an inner-city school. Suburban women voters should eat this up.

He is putting together a decent organization, he’ll have plenty of his own money to compete, and he appears to have won over a significant number of conservatives. He took 22 out of 58 votes in a recent straw poll of county GOP chairs, coming in first in a large field.

His last name is a big problem, of course. Just ask Jim Ryan. He’ll have to make sure people don’t mistake him for the “old” Ryans. But this guy could really catch fire. (http://www.jackryan2004.com)

• State Senator Steve Rauschenberger – The only GOP candidate with any real legislative experience, Rauschenberger is counting on his myriad contacts throughout the state to help him raise money and win the primary. He is also the favorite of several conservatives.

Former state Representative Jim Durkin could serve as a model for Rauschenberger’s primary campaign. Durkin never placed TV ads yet beat two rich unknowns to win the 2002 Republican U.S. Senate primary race.

Rauschenberger was busted for DUI several years ago, his family’s business declared bankruptcy, and he was the lead state Senate GOP negotiator during the George Ryan budget buildups, so there are some pitfalls awaiting his as-yet-undeclared candidacy.

But he is the only candidate to have ever survived an intense campaign. The state Senate Democrats went after him with guns ablazing last year, and he easily won the race. He’s also putting some early money into Internet advertising. (http://www.steve2004.com)

• Andrew McKenna – Comes from a wealthy and politically involved family. McKenna is the president of Schwarz Paper Company.

A nasty rumor circulated for months that McKenna has regularly contributed to Democratic candidates. But that turned out to be false.

The biggest knock on McKenna so far is that he is bland, but another way of looking at him is he’s a sober, thoughtful person who is surrounding himself with the right people to help him win. (http://www.mckennaforsenate.com)

• Jim Oberweis – Best known for the milk company his family owns, Oberweis came in second in the 2002 U.S. Senate GOP primary, behind state Representative Jim Durkin.

His campaign has received some early bad press. Opponents claim his dairy company is running its first-ever TV ads to boost Oberweis’ political prospects.

He finished first in a recent WBBM-TV poll. And since he’s done this race before, he has several friends throughout the state. (http://wwww.oberweiss2004.com)

• John Cox – The top of the second tier belongs to John Cox, an attorney and accountant who spent a million dollars of his own money for a third-place (out of three candidates) finish in the 2002 U.S. Senate primary. But this time out he is running ads imploring ordinary people to contribute to his campaign. His most prominent idea so far is to give people a tax credit for political contributions.

Cox appears to be aiming at the core of Peter Fitzgerald’s anti-George Ryan, angry conservative base. “I’m sick and tired of political decisions being made because of some crony or because it moves money to some guy who’s going to give you a political hand up,” Cox told the Chicago Tribune.

• John Borling – A retired Air Force general, Borling has an impressive résumé. He spent more than six years in a North Vietnam prisoner-of-war camp. He was a highly decorated fighter pilot and director of operations for the Strategic Air Command during the first Gulf War; he was also the chief of staff for the Pentagon’s super-secret think tank CHECKMATE.

Whether Borling can translate his impressive credentials to a winning campaign remains to be seen. He doesn’t have enough personal wealth to do it on his own. He is also pro-choice in a pro-life political party.

• Chirinjeev Kathuria – A wealthy, thoughtful, personable businessman with all the right positions for a Republican U.S. Senate primary who says he will spend $15 million of his own money on the race.

So, why is he in the second tier of candidates? Well, he wears a turban. That might sound bigoted, but you gotta admit it’s probably a huge disadvantage in a Republican primary in this state.

Still, there’s something about this guy that could catapult him to the first tier. He is so immensely likable that he could surprise everyone and pull this off. Stranger things have happened in Illinois politics, but not much. (http://www.chirinjeevkathuria.com)

Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter. He can be reached at (http://www.capitolfax.com).