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The Oberweis campaign office is on the second floor of a handsomely restored former windmill factory on the banks of the Fox River in downtown Batavia. When I arrived on a Tuesday morning in May, the front door was locked. It took a phone call to his new campaign manager, David From, to let me in. A former aide to Hastert and moderate Republican representative Mark Kirk, From replaced Bill Pascoe, a veteran GOP operative known for combative campaigns, after the March loss. “Jim has been kind of dehumanized,” From acknowledges. “It would be a mistake for us to try to reinvent him, [but] there are some things that are there, that have been in the background of his campaigns and his life, that could be highlighted more effectively.” Then the new campaign manager hits on something that is an article of faith among the candidate’s family and close supporters. “I think many of the qualities that make Jim not a great campaigner are what would make him a great congressman.”
“There’s this horribly negative impression about him that I think has arisen from him being fairly succinct,” says Joe Oberweis, 28, the youngest of Oberweis’s five children and the chairman and CEO of Oberweis Dairy. “He says what he thinks. And he has chosen, on a few occasions, analogies or examples that just sounded bad."
Oberweis concedes that he entered politics naïvely. “My thought about the political process was I’d like to have all the candidates out there and have them clearly communicate their positions and then let me, as a voter, pick,” Oberweis says. “I thought that’s how it worked. Wrong. That’s not how it works at all. It’s almost the opposite. In business you want to communicate as clearly as you can. It seems to me in politics, the rewards go to those who don’t communicate clearly.”
With a few exceptions, Oberweis is clear about his views. The less government, the better. Simplify the tax code and make the Bush tax cuts permanent. Offer incentives to increase individual accountability, such as merit pay for teachers and a health care system based on personal savings accounts. And, most contentiously, in a district where the Hispanic population increased by nearly 40 percent between 2000 and 2006, reform immigration. He believes in ending birthright citizenship, denying amnesty for existing illegal immigrants, and making English America’s official language.
“Securing Our Borders,” as his campaign Web site puts it, forms the crux of Oberweis’s political brand, and it is the issue—with its attendant charges of racism—that is most responsible for the revulsion some feel toward him. But in conversations with Oberweis, it is far less likely to come up than, say, the mushrooming federal debt. His most loyal political supporters seem drawn to his distaste for government spending and economic regulation. His repeated inability to package those beliefs into a winning political message is what most frustrates them. “If elected, it is my belief that Jim would be a terrific congressman,” said Robert Bonifas, the CEO of Alarm Detection Systems in Aurora and a longtime Oberweis friend and political donor. “Whether he is capable of providing a mental enema to the electorate to flush out the old Jim and instill the new Jim, I don’t know.”
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