CHICAGO — Democrat Barack Obama was elected to the U.S. Senate from Illinois on Nov. 2 in the biggest landslide in state history. Obama received 70 percent of the vote in defeating ultra-right-wing commentator and Republican candidate Alan Keyes. Obama becomes only the fifth African American ever elected to the Senate.

Obama received the highest vote for a statewide candidate in Illinois history, winning all but 10 counties, urban and rural, heavily African American and predominantly white. He carried all the Chicago city wards by large margins and all the townships in Cook County. In addition, Obama won the suburban “collar counties” including DuPage County, a Republican stronghold. He received 700,000 more votes than Kerry overall.

Obama, who has a liberal track record in the state Senate, appealed to voters everywhere with a unifying message for jobs creation, more funding for education and affordable, quality health care. He strongly denounced the Iraq war.

Obama’s message sharply contrasted with the divisive, mean-spirited campaign run by Keyes, who redbaited Obama and focused narrowly on passage of a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and outlawing abortions. At one point he attacked gays as “selfish hedonists.” He warned that those voting for Obama were “committing sin.” But behind Keyes’ “moral crusade” was total support for Bush’s anti-people agenda.

Obama’s election instantly makes him a national political figure. In post-election interviews he encouraged Democrats to jump into the discussion of moral questions and expose the hypocrisy of Republicans. He suggested that moral values include “the immorality of 45 million uninsured or the immorality of working people who are having trouble raising a family despite working full time.”

Obama won without much visible support from Chicago’s Democratic political machines. He campaigned with an army of volunteers that had multiplied since his primary victory in February. His landslide victory then was propelled by widespread support in the African American and Latino communities, a section of labor, peace activists, and progressive independent political clubs.

The selection of Keyes was seen as a tremendous blunder and exposed the deep-seated racism of the Republican Party. Keyes, also an African American, was brought in from Maryland to campaign in a state where Republicans have no base in the African American community.

Keyes’ campaign also deepened the division between the extremist and moderate wings of the state party, which have been in turmoil for several years now. After refusing to concede and congratulate Obama, Keyes issued a declaration of war against the Republican leadership, pledging to stay in Illinois and lead a takeover of the state party to remake it along ultra-reactionary lines.

In another race that made the national spotlight, Democrat Melissa Bean defeated incumbent Rep. Phil Crane, the longest serving Republican in Congress. The suburban 8th CD has been one of the most reliably Republican in the state.

Bean, a small business consultant, won as a fresh moderate voice in contrast to Crane who is consistently one of the most reactionary Republicans. Crane was tarnished by exposés of being a “junket king” and was increasingly out of step politically in his district, which has been gradually changing. Bean won over many moderate Republican and independent voters.

This was Bean’s second race against Crane. She received extensive support nationally from Democrats, labor, women’s, environmental and other independent progressive organizations.

The author can be reached at jbachtell@rednet.org.

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