Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Updated August 18, 2004 at 5:40 pm

The Talk of the Town: making sense of Republican U. S. Senate Candidate Alan Keyes- Power to the People? The emergence of a kinder, gentler Alan Keyes? Abortion, the Patriot Act, Corruption, Business and Individual Morality, Gay Marriage/Procreation, Reparations, taxes, enterprise zones, Oprah and much, much more.

Speaking to a full crowd of 315 members and guests at a City Club of Chicago lunch program, Republican U. S. Senate Candidate Alan Keyes seemed to “tone it down,” a bit today. Of course, a “toned down,” Alan Keyes is still an extremely dynamic, articulate and provocative speaker.

If Keyes is to have a chance of winning, or even climbing into the 40 % vote range, [A much more mainstream, but less dynamic and very underfunded Republican Senate Candidate Jim Durkin, got 38% of the vote in 2002 against senior U. S. Senator Dick Durbin], he will need to do many more such speeches and engage in many more such conversations that adopt today’s style. Some of Keyes financial supporters, such as conservative Family Tax Network leader Jack Roeser, have been trying to persuade Senate Candidate Alan Keyes to focus a bit more on selling, and perhaps even a bit of a softer-sell. We’ll see if Ambassador Keyes wants to do that and if he can adopt a more diplomatic style.

The 315 attendance number is significant because Republican speakers don’t draw nearly as well at the City Club of Chicago as the Democrats, so 315 people in attendance may demonstrate that Keyes is in fact energizing the Republican base, even in the Democrat dominated City of Chicago. For example, I believe the Senator Dick Durbin, not known for his dynamic speaking style, drew the City Club max- 340. Keyes, with only six days notice to City Club members and others, came pretty close to matching Senator Durbin, closing with 60 voicemail reservations last night and this morning. As Keyes’ mentor and former boss, President Reagan, said in a different context, “Not bad, not bad, not bad at all.”

While the crowd was certainly filled with more supporters than detractors, the City Club of Chicago members and program attendees are known for tilting heavily Democratic and Left and a good number of such were also present, including such notables as former Democratic Gubernatorial candidate and icon Dawn Clark Netsch, who was seated at the same table as Democratic activist Michael Bauer. Although Keyes’ talk drew a number of grimaces from the Grand Dame Dawn, he also seemed to get a few smiles.

Former long-time Democratic State Senator and pol Art Berman, another Democratic icon, was also in attendance and challenged Keyes on his argument to repeal the 17th Amendment to the U. S. Constitution and put the vote for U. S. Senators back in the hands of the likes of Art Berman, i.e., the state legislatures. Needless to say, Alan Keyes was not lacking for a sharp response to senator Berman.

Among various journalists and many cameras in attendance were Chicago Sun-Times columnists Laura Washington and Scott Fornek, two of the more knowledgeable and balanced political journalists in town.

On the Republican side, I didn’t see former Governors and so-called State GOP party elders Jim Thompson and Jim Edgar at the lunch program [no doubt they had previous engagements]. I did see conservative Family-Pac Executive Director Paul Caprio in the room and, surprisingly, this room, if not the conservative wing of the Republican Party, was large enough to accommodate Paul Caprio and Jack Roeser, who seem to have been feuding since anyone can remember.

The program was moderated by Mr. Conservative in Illinois-- the City Club of Chicago’s Chairman, Chicago Sun-Times columnist and WLS-AM Radio “Political Shoot-out,” host Tom Roeser. Jay Doherty, Haymarket Group Partner, Democratic Honcho and City Club President was unable to be there, meaning the audience missed out on the famous Doherty City Club introductions of the notables in attendance. Paul Green, the extremely amiable and intelligent City Club of Chicago program chair, Roosevelt University Professor and often the moderator of these lunch and breakfast programs, was there but played the unusual role, for him, of a silent partner.

Keyes spoke for about 35 minutes and answered questions from the audience for another 40 minutes, or so. A frustrated NBC- 5 Dick Kay mentioned after a press conference earlier this week that Keyes gave him no sound-bites. That is, Kay implied that Keyes spoke in verbose paragraphs, as opposed to succinct phrases suitable for 10 second TV shots. Well, Keyes obliged the media today.

Some key Alan Keyes sound-bites [perhaps more details, later]

…I want to make it crystal clear, because it is on the record crystal clear that I am not necessarily a kind of mindless fan of the Patriot Act… [What? Keyes to the left of Democratic 8th Cong. District candidate Melissa Bean? Bean said, on my show, that the Patriot Act was a reasonable response to 9/11]

…On what grounds do we say that that babe in the womb is unequal to me or you in terms of respect for its life? It makes no sense…

…There are two ways in which you can approach what you do with a political machine and the “bosses.” One is that you challenge that machine on behalf of the people, that you mean to see an end to the mentality that subordinates the interests of the people to the power interests of any politicians...[we need to] put the people of this state back in charge...but sadly, the way my opponent [Barack Obama] is acting gives rise to the suspicion that, yeah, he is challenging the leadership and challenging the machine and challenging the bosses but he is challenging them not because he wants to put the people in their place but because he wants to take their place…
Jeff Berkowitz, host and producer of “Public Affairs,” can be reached at