Wanted: GOP Candidates

Lost amid the presidential hoopla is the U.S. Senate race here; can the GOP find an opponent for Durbin?

With only about five months till the February 5th primary election, the Republicans still don’t have a strong opponent for two-term U.S. senator Dick Durbin. In 2002, the party also fielded a feeble challenge to Durbin, who easily beat state representative Jim Durkin 60 to 38 percent. So far, the only announced aspirants for Durbin’s seat are no-namers and neophytes. There’s Steven Sauerberg, a physician and first-time candidate, from Willowbrook. Also declared is perennial ballot gadfly and conservative commentator Andy Martin. Jim Rowe, a Franklin Park lawyer who got blown out last election cycle against state senator Don Harmon, said he was considering running, too. But his campaign Web site has expired—never a good sign.

Illinois Republican Party chairman Andy McKenna Jr. says the battle may be uphill, but he isn’t worried—yet. “I think the field will be set by Labor Day or thereabouts,” he says. What about some of the GOP old hands? Jim Edgar? Nope, says McKenna. And Judy Baar Topinka—what’s she thinking? “Me? I had my shot,” says Topinka. “I have no desire to go to Washington—I think it’s a pit.” DuPage County attorney Joe Birkett, the GOP’s nominee for lieutenant governor in 2006 and for attorney general in 2002, was also rumored to be weighing a run against Durbin, but he recently announced that he would seek his fourth term as state’s attorney. Another potentially tough opponent for Durbin, Bill Brady, the state senator from Bloomington who lost his gubernatorial primary bid to Topinka in 2006, wants another shot at the governor’s office.

Without a GOP A-lister on the ballot, Topinka concedes that defeating Durbin, the Dems’ number-two guy in the Senate, is a long shot. Still, she adds: “No one is immortal in politics.” McKenna says the party is also courting candidates who can fund their own campaigns. One name floating around is Kevin J. P. O’Hara, the former chief administrative officer
of the Chicago Board of Trade. Says Topinka: “I don’t know him well, but he’s got a great Irish name, which seems to sell in Chicago.”

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