Thursday, July 29, 2004

Updated July 29, 2004 at 12:15 am.

Illinois to Karl Rove in the White House, you've got a problem: For President Bush to win re-election, he must have Jack Ryan, Senator Peter Fitzgerald or State Senator Steve Rauschenberger as the U. S. Senate Candidate from Illinois. If Rove can't handle this, perhaps he should call Josh Liman. If Rove doesn't know who that is, ask one of the kids.

Archpundit [] suggests in his blog of yesterday that Bush's master political operative, Karl Rove, probably called GOP Chairman Judy Baar Topinka, after Karl watched Barack Obama’s masterful bit of oratory in Tuesday’s Democratic convention keynote speech, and told Topinka to find any live body to be a Senate candidate. Archpundit says, “Imagine if Obama's only opposition is a libertarian candidate and what he [Barack Obama] can do to raise black turnout in swing states--and the press he will bring with him.”

Archpundit [Larry Handlin] has a point, but he doesn’t take it far enough. Senator John Kerry realized a while ago that Barack Obama is an extraordinary talent who could help Kerry win the presidency. Kerry was in Chicago for a joint appearance shortly after the Primary election and saw Barack’s magic. Further, almost two months ago, Hillary Clinton appeared at a fundraiser for Barack, and I am sure it was unintentional, but Barack overshadowed Hillary and word of that no doubt traveled wide and far. Say what the Republicans will about State Senator Barack Obama’s legislative voting record-- about him being too liberal for the Illinois electorate—it was as clear that night with Hillary as it was on Tuesday night of this week that Obama lights up a roomful or building of Democrats and energizes the base, even more so than Hillary, who is not half bad at it. Moreover, he knows how to move to the center, how to soften his edge—and how to do so to appeal to independents.

The major problem for Chairman Topinka, if she is bright enough and balanced enough to see this, is that “any live body,” for a Republican Senate candidate won’t do. In the remaining 96 days of the Presidential campaign, if Barack does not have a credible Republican Senate opponent, someone who could conceivably win, Barack Obama could help Kerry-Edwards win in a number of the 18 battleground states. That help could be much, much broader than simply raising Black turn-out, as Larry states. Instead, Barack could travel often to those states to energize the base, and particularly young Democrats and would be Democrats, a group that historically has not voted in large numbers, but which is being targeted intensively this year by the DNC.

True, the Obama speech may not have been carried by many of the network affiliates [although I think the Chicago ABC local affiliate did carry it], but it was carried by the cable news and political show networks. Also, the Obama Keynote speech was carried by the PBS network, and, in Chicago, was replayed a second time on Wednesday night on the local public television station, WTTW, in its entirety at the end of Chicago Tonight, in prime time, and then was repeated several times, when Chicago Tonight was repeated. I would not be surprised to learn that other public television local affiliates may follow suit.

So, Barack Obama is on his way to some national name recognition. Moreover, he has 4 to 5 million dollars on hand, and has a good chance to push that up to 9 to 10 million dollars by November 2. Without a credible opponent, how much of that could be diverted to Barack’s efforts to help Kerry win, say, in Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa or Pennsylvania, just to name a few of the battleground states that will determine who sits in the real West Wing, come January, 2005.

In those battleground states, most importantly, Obama would use his “crossover,” appeal to target independents and swing voters. As Rich Miller of Capitolfax pointed out, Obama targeted, successfully, during the March, 2004 Senate primary, the 31% Roland Burris black vote and the 33% Paul Vallas mostly white, suburban vote that Roland and Paul received, respectively, in the 2002 Democratic gubernatorial primary. Okay, Obama did not get 64% of the Democratic senate primary vote in March, 2004, but he got 53% of it. In short, he got most of the black votes and very large chunks of the Vallas suburban white vote, including perhaps some of the Vallas Republican cross-over vote, not to mention significant chunks of the city white vote that was supposed to belong to State Comptroller Dan Hynes, son of the historical political powerhouse Tom Hynes.

Now, since I am just a legal recruiter, who only dabbles as a political interview show host-- and I do this blog instead of watching baseball or other sports, wouldn’t you suppose people who devote their lives to this, such as Kerry/Edwards operatives can figure it out, too. And, if the Ds can figure it out, perhaps the Rs, such as Bush-Cheney, Rove, Senator Allen, et al, have jumped on this, too. That is, they all probably realize that Republicans need someone who Barack thinks can win, to keep him focused on Illinois and out of the 18 state battlefield on which the 2004 Presidential election will be determined.

So, what are the Rs doing? A good question. I am told by the Republicans in the know that Senator George Allen has blinders on, and he is only looking at keeping the U. S. Senate Republican majority intact. Apparently, Bush-Cheney be damned. So, while Senator Allen would like Jack to run in Illinois so Senator Allen has a shot at keeping the Illinois senate seat Republican without diverting the Senate Republican Campaign Committee’s money from other Senate battleground states, Allen is not willing to promise any senate candidates significant money in the event that Jack Ryan actually withdraws, as he said he would on June 25, 2004.

Senator Allen has the ability to transfer about $1.2 million in “coordinating committee,” money to a senate candidate. Further, if Speaker Hastert would commit to three fundraisers and Bush to one, they could come up with the three million dollar, or so, package that Senator Steve Rauschenberger was talking about as a pre-requisite for him to run.

It is a long shot for him to beat Barack, but Rauschenberger has most of the traits necessary to present a credible threat to Barack, even at this late stage, if Senator Allen starts pulling together the financial package. After his primary run of March, 2004, Senator Rauschenberger has reasonable state-wide name recognition, energizes the Republican base, had the support of such social conservatives in good standing as Pat O’Malley and Dave Syverson, and had a number of moderate Rs supporting him, based on twelve years of building bridges and relationships in the state senate. Indeed, that is four more years in the state senate than the now almost legendary Barack Obama.

In addition to Senator Steve Rauschenberger, the only other shots that the State GOP has at presenting a credible opponent to state senator Barack Obama that might keep him occupied and out of the battleground states are the incumbent, Senator Peter Fitzgerald and the Republican primary winner, Jack Ryan [For a discussion of how an executive recruiter might approach the search for a Republican U. S. Senate candidate, See blog entry, below, updated July 21, revised July 23, 1:30 pm].

Senator Fitzgerald could do it based on his ability to self-fund, name recognition, his ability to energize the Republican base and the fact that he has a clear, statewide reputation as an independent and maverick, which could create many Fitzgerald Democrats, and he actually rates in the middle in terms of his voting record. That is, the man does not have to do much running, to get to the Center.

Jack Ryan could do it based on his ability to self-fund, his attractiveness, and his coherent free market and social conservative philosophy/themes. He would have to admit mistakes on the sealed records: apologize for not saying that their disclosure would be embarrassing to him. If there is worse to come out in still redacted docs, say what it is, apologize and move on. Would that work? I don’t know, but he has a shot at making it work. More importantly, I do think he is one of only three candidates who might be able to keep Obama busy enough to keep President Bush in the oval office.

So, what is Chairman Topinka doing about this? Good question. She has called a meeting of the 19 member State Central Committee for Tuesday, August 3, 2004, at noon. Who will be there? The 19 members of the State Central Committee ("SCC"), Chairman Judy, RNC honcho and friend of Karl Rove- Bob Kjellander and probably key Fundraisers, e.g., Ron Gidwitz, certain members of the Congressional delegation and who knows. To do what? To kind of take stock as to where things are in the Jack Ryan replacement process.

My operatives tell me that there are twelve, or so, candidates being discussed or thought out by the SCC. However, only three have been vetted, are talking up their candidacy and are currently being discussed publicly as candidates: General John Borling, John Cox and Jim Oberweis. The fact that the others are not even being mentioned these days suggest they include such luminaries as not so Republican, no so anything Dr. Barthwell, rookie Cook County Board member Liz Gorman, 1% primary finisher Dr. Kathuria, etc. That is, not a credible opponent for Obama in the bunch.

As I have discussed on this blog, below, General John Borling got about 2% in the Primary, is pro-choice and will not energize the Republican base, has no base of his own or prior political experience, cannot self fund, was 37 years in the military--including a long stint as a POW with Senator McCain, is a nice guy and has no chance to be a credible opponent to Obama. Those who think otherwise must be on meds.

John Cox was third out of three in 2002 senate primary and dropped out of the 2004 senate primary. Won’t self-fund a significant amount, not very good name recognition, consistently articulates a strong economic and social conservative message, but has been unable to energize and attract large chunks of the Republican base in prior outings. Is currently engaged in a futile attempt to unseat Democratic incumbent Cook County Recorder of Deeds Eugene Moore. Nice guy, bright guy- but has no chance to be a credible opponent to Obama.

Jim Oberweis, second in 2002 senate primary and second in 2004 primary. Close, but no cigar. Will self fund some, but not enough to matter. Has admitted his too harsh immigration ads in the primary were perhaps a mistake, without backing off from his argument that we should clamp down on illegal immigration. His implicit and explicit criticism of President Bush on Immigration, notwithstanding his strong support of Bush on almost all other matters, make him a non-starter with Rove, no matter how well he can sugar coat the ads. Nice guy, smart guy, but he has made two strategic mistakes too many [analogizing pro-lifers to the Taliban and taking on Bush on Immigration]. Has no chance to be a credible opponent to Obama.

Clearly, any of the other candidates being considered by the SCC are even weaker than the above three.

Clearly, the blood is so bad between Chairman Topinka and Bob Kjellander, on the one hand, and State Senator Rauschenberger, Senator Fitzgerald and Jack Ryan, on the other, that none of those three would be a senate candidate unless Chairman Topinka and RNC honcho Kjellander exited gracefully. If Judy and Bob did that, and their strong finance committee stuck around, and the State GOP brought in new, strong, professional leadership that would support vigorously Jack Ryan, Peter Fitzgerald or Steve Rauschenberger, and if Rove/Bush-Cheney got behind the new candidate, or old candidate, if it is Jack Ryan- President Bush then would have a shot to stay in the White House.

If not, it is anchors away with Swift Boat John Kerry rowing up the Potomac into the Oval office, greeted no doubt by Martin Sheen, aka Jed Bartlett of West Wing.

Jeff Berkowitz, host and producer of Public Affairs, can be reached at