Illinois Senate race offers historic opportunity

CHICAGO – The race for the Democratic nomination for the open U.S. Senate seat in Illinois has boiled down to a three-person race, according to polls. Millionaire Blair Hull has a slight lead after pouring $18 million of his own money into an advertising blitz. State Sen. Barak Obama and State Controller Dan Hynes trail him, with a large undecided vote remaining. The primary will be held March 16.

At several campaign rallies across this city on Feb. 21, Obama said that after the presidential race, the Senate race in Illinois might be the most important. He noted the historic potential of his campaign, aside from helping break the Republican majority. If successful he would be only the third African American since Reconstruction elected to the U.S. Senate.

“People are really hurting across Illinois. It’s a jobless recovery. Laid-off industrial workers are now competing with their children for $7-per-hour jobs at Wal-Mart,” said Obama: “Fifty-year-old white workers are facing nearly the same future as young African American men from the South Side, 50 percent of whom are out of work and out of school.”

“If I’m elected you get a three-for,” said Obama. “You get a Democrat, greater diversity and someone with backbone who will fight the Bush agenda.”

At a North Side rally for Obama, Democratic Rep. Jan Schakowsky noted that these are extraordinary times that require a different kind of leadership in the fight against ultra-right policies.

“We don’t need any old Democrat,” said Schakowsky, “We don’t need a go-along, get-along senator. It is amazing that it’s the 21st century and there are no African Americans in the U.S. Senate.”

Obama spoke out against going to war in Iraq at a mass rally in Chicago in August 2002.

Of all the candidates, Obama can boast the most diverse support. While Hynes has the backing of the state AFL-CIO and the bulk of the Democratic machine, Obama has the support of several key unions including the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees; Service Employees; Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees; the state American Federation of Teachers; Chicago Teachers Union and Teamsters Local 705, the second largest in the country. Obama has a 90 percent voting record on labor issues in the Illinois Senate.

In addition to widespread support in the African American community, Obama has also received the backing of several independent Latino elected officials led by State Sen. Miguel del Valle, Rep. Cynthia Soto and Alderman Ray Colon. Alderman Joe Moore from the North Side is also backing him.

Many progressive organizations have thrown their support to Obama, including the Sierra Club and League of Conservation Voters. In its endorsement, Citizen Action/Illinois praised Obama’s 96 percent voting record on consumer issues. President William McNary said Obama “will be a strong voice in Washington on behalf of working families.”

Noting that Hull has thrown around his considerable fortune to gain endorsements of elected officials and Chicago ward organizations, Schakowsky said the key to victory would be “voter identification and get-out-the-vote. People power beats money any day of the week.”

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