GOP fights to keep senate seat in party

By Gus Bode

Six republicans hope to fill vacancy

Though the 2004 election is more than a year away and the primary elections are slated for April, Republican candidates for the Illinois U.S. Senate seat are scrambling to get their messages across in hopes of keeping Sen. Peter Fitzgerald’s vacant seat within the party.

Ever since Fitzgerald announced in April that he would not seek a second term, the GOP has been searching for someone to fill his shoes – and six Illinoisans are vying for the job.

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Last week, Gen. John Borling of Chicago and James Oberweis of Aurora announced their intention to consider bids for the U.S. Senate seat.

The announcements place them on the Republican Ballot alongside millionaire John Cox of Northbrook, Andy McKenna Jr. of Glenview, Dr. Chirinjeev Kathuria of Chicago and Jack Ryan of Wilmette.

Ryan, a 43-year-old millionaire, was the first to officially enter the race. He could not be reached for comment.

Last week, Ryan announced his intent to spend $5 million on this primary race. Kathuria and Oberweis threw out similar numbers, though slightly deflated.

“I’ll put several million into the campaign and raise several more,” Kathuria said. “If we go all the way through the general election – between the money we put in and the money we raise – we’d probably spend between $10 and $15 million.”

Cox and Ryan also promised to spend large portions of their own money in campaign finance. McKenna, however, said that though he hasn’t set a budget for his run for the Senate seat, the money will not be his own.

“We don’t believe in self-funding campaigns,” McKenna said. “In the four to five weeks we’ve been working, we’ve raised half a million dollars, and we continue to focus on building that.

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“I’m confident we’ll have the resources to be successful.”

Cox also said in an interview last week that he intends to focus his campaign on people instead of dollars. He hopes to enlist more than 10,000 volunteers as he hits the campaign trail this year. He also carries a slight advantage, having finished third on the Republican side of the primary election last year.

Kathuria said he also intends to focus on the grassroots in his campaign.

All Republican candidates are stressing the importance of creating jobs in a time of economic crisis but branch off on their approaches and on other issues.

McKenna, who has coined himself the “jobs candidate,” is pushing jobs toward the private sector and away from the government and manufacturing. McKenna also promises to bring Illinois its fair share of research dollars.

“More money leads to more resources, which lead to more patents, which gives us more jobs,” he said.

Cox, now in his third bout for the U.S. Senate, is also pushing for more jobs but through pumping more money into private business through tax breaks and incentives.

“You can pump the economy by giving money to the consumers, but if they don’t have the things to buy, and new technologies aren’t created, we aren’t going to create the economy we need to create,” he said.

Oberweis and Kathuria said they will utilize their knowledge of business to create jobs, having brought businesses from the ground up. Kathuria, however, said the country should also look to the foreign market to aid the economy.

Kathuria said he hopes to remove the barriers keeping the United States from utilizing foreign trade. Though Kathuria said he is not a professional politician like many of his competitors, he said he could utilize this to bring a fresh perspective to Congress.

Kathuria came to the United States from India when he was 8 months old. He said he is taking this opportunity to give back to the country that has been good to him. Having received an education from schools such as Brown and Stanford, he intends to focus on education as well as health care reforms.

Cox is also pushing for environmental security through new technologies, and Borling is running on a base of general political ethics.

Borling, a POW during the Vietnam war, who last week began his campaign, said it is the government’s job to provide opportunities for all Americans to achieve the American Dream, which he sees as opportunity combined with struggle to go as far as ambition can take the individual.

“I am very much concerned about the next generations and have dedicated my life to public service,” Borling said. “This country is worth not just dying for, but living for. It may sound like idealism, but it’s idealism without illusion.”

Borling, whose daughter is an SIUC graduate, said that after retiring from the Air Force after 37 years of service, including seven years in a work camp as a prisoner of war, he joined the race because he was disheartened by the way the ideals of America have been eroded so that “freedoms are only practiced at the margins.”

McKenna said the candidates are running with their experience and their ideas for creating jobs during an economic downturn. The winner will be the candidate who has best expressed his ideas to the state at large.

“I have confidence that the people are going to be able to showcase their abilities and to speak their ideas,” he said.

Oberweis said it would be important for Republicans to unite when they pick a candidate for the Senate race. He said the GOP has been divided for some years, and feels, having connections on both sides, that he could bring it back together.

“It’s critical to keep this seat in Republican hands,” he said.

Reporter Katie Davis can be reached at [email protected]

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