GOP wooing Keyes to take on Obama

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GOP wooing Keyes to take on Obama

August 3, 2004

BY SCOTT FORNEK Political Reporter


Barack Obama might get a race, after all.

Former GOP presidential candidate Alan Keyes told Illinois Republicans Monday that he is ''open to the idea'' of taking on the Democrat in the U.S. Senate race -- a move that would pit two eloquent, nationally known African Americans against one another.

''It would be a classic race of conservative vs. liberal,'' said state Sen. Dave Syverson, a member of the panel looking for a candidate to go up against Obama. ''It would put this race on the map in this country -- just for excitement.''

Syverson spoke to Keyes several times Monday and said Keyes did not commit to making the run. The former State Department official and radio and television personality was unable to fly from his home in Maryland to Chicago for a meeting the Republican State Central Committee is holding today to interview potential candidates.

''But he certainly has an interest, and he said if the group is interested in meeting with him and speaking with him about his views that he would be happy to come out and meet [later]," said Syverson, a Rockford member of the committee.


''He said that he was open to the idea. And he felt that Obama didn't really represent the views of the people of Illinois. So I think he was really just in the exploration stage."

It remains to be seen how Keyes would fare in Illinois. Four years ago, he came in third in the state's GOP presidential primary, winning only 9 percent of the vote. And in 1996, he placed fourth with less than 4 percent. And he lost U.S. Senate bids in Maryland in 1988 and 1992.

But some believe Keyes could be just the antidote to Obama.

''Wow!" said Ronald Smith, another member of state central committee. ''I'd love it. I'd love it. I tell you, in a debate, he would blow Obama out of the water. ... I heard him speak. He mesmerizes you, just his grasp of the issues.''

State Sen. Steve Rauschenberger is not a member of the state central committee, but he said his discussions with insiders lead him to believe it's a better than 50-50 chance Keyes will seek the nomination.

''It redefines the race," Rauschenberger said. ''Barack Obama would end up a much better candidate after a few months with Alan Keyes. Plus I think they are polar opposites.''

Keyes lives in Maryland, but Syverson argues that is not an insurmountable problem, pointing to Hillary Clinton's successful run for a New York Senate seat.

''It's not necessarily where you live as much as who you represent and the views you represent," Syverson said. "He believes that there is a void in Illinois and that Obama certainly does not represent Illinois. And he believes that he would be, if he were to run, much more representative of Illinois."

Not all members of the state central committee are sold on Keyes.

"He can talk -- that I know," said Barbara Peterson, a state central committeewoman from Will County. "I've been enthralled by his speeches, but I liked Obama's speech, too. So what does that say for me? Maybe I just like a good speech. I don't know at this point. Why would he want to do it?"

The central committee is scheduled to meet today to interview potential replacements for Jack Ryan, who dropped out of the race last month amid allegations he once took his wife to sex clubs.

Cook County Commissioner Liz Gorman took herself out of the running Monday. Remaining potential candidates are radio personality Orion Samuelson, Aurora dairy owner Jim Oberweis, retired Air Force Major Gen. John Borling, Gold Coast businessman John Cox, Oak Brook entrepreneur Chirinjeev Kathuria and former deputy drug czar Andrea Grubb Barthwell.

Conversations with Keyes have been kept so close to the vest that not all of the 19-person central committee even knew about them.

"That's news to me," said Dennis Wiggins, a state central committeeman from Kane County. "I think he'd work fine, if he was willing to run. I mean where are you going to find anyone so polished and well-spoken?"

The first Obama heard of Keyes was when reporters asked him about the potential matchup at a stop in Downstate Bloomington.

"Does he live in Illinois?" Obama asked. "The Republicans need to just go ahead and make up their minds and when they do, we'll be happy to debate whoever they put in."

Contributing: Dave McKinney, Abdon M. Pallasch
 

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