GOP seeks Ryan’s replacement

By Gus Bode

Rauschenberger backed by Bost, says race not lost

Illinois Republicans believe they still have time to locate a strong candidate to wage a credible campaign against Democratic State Sen. Barack Obama for the open U.S. Senate seat before the general election.

Just a day after embattled U.S. Senate Republican candidate Jack Ryan dropped out of the race when sexual allegations made by his former wife and actress Jeri Ryan in their divorce records were made public, Republican leaders met in Chicago Saturday to discuss the process of finding a replacement.

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With top candidates in former Illinois Govs. Jim Thompson and Jim Edgar and State Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka declining nominations, a name that is beginning to emerge is State Sen. Steve Rauschenberger.

In the primary, Rauschenberger finished third to Jack Ryan, in part, because of a lack of funds for his campaign.

“Ryan seemed like a credible candidate, but I wasn’t a supporter of his because I was behind Rauschenberger,” said Rep. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro. “I think there some people who can beat [Obama]. I don’t know what the timetable is. The state party has to deal with that. But I do think Obama is beatable.”

Other names beginning to circulate are dairy owner Jim Oberweis, businessman Andy McKenna, former chairman of the State Board of Education and millionaire Ron Gidwitz and Illinois State Supreme Court member and former Chicago Bears kicker Bob Thomas.

Topinka, in a written statement, said the Illinois GOP is currently accepting applications and would interview potential replacements in coming weeks. It is believed that a replacement will be named by mid-July.

Mike Lawrence, interim director of the Public Policy Institute at SIUC, anticipates the potential replacements to be highly scrutinized in their background checks after the embarrassment caused by Ryan’s alleged sexual requests made to his ex-wife at sex clubs.

“The last thing the Republicans want to happen is for a candidate to be supported and later have something negative be revealed about the candidate,” he said.

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Lawrence agreed with the Illinois GOP that there is still time to wage a credible battle versus Obama, as long as a decision is made soon on the candidate. He quickly noted primaries used to be run during June, and thus, history proves the possibility exists.

But given his current upswing in popularity, many ultimately believe the articulate and charismatic Obama will be too tough of an opponent to surpass.

“I haven’t given a lot of thought to the Ryan thing,” said Rep. John Bradley, D-Marion, distancing himself from the situation much like many Illinois Democrats. “It is certainly disappointing when you see something in the paper about elected officials, no matter of party. … [But] the polls were showing Obama in quite a lead before the sex scandal, and I’d anticipate they still look the same.”

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