WE ARE ILLINOIS
GOP slate in Illinois U.S. senate race
By David Mendell and Rick Pearson
In a state where Democrats hold every top elected office, it's difficult to fathom a little-known Republican ousting an entrenched Democratic U.S. senator like Dick Durbin this fall.
The Senate race in Illinois should be a marquee contest for Republicans. Instead it has once again come to symbolize the dire straits of a beleaguered state GOP organization that just four years ago selected Maryland conservative Alan Keyes for a disastrous Senate race against then-state Sen. Barack Obama.
This time, the GOP primary contest features three contenders who have never held a public office. It has been a below-the-radar race featuring a party-backed candidate against a perennial contender with a controversial past that includes making anti-Semitic remarks and a fringe candidate who has made the elimination of toll roads a top agenda item.
The state Republican Party took the unusual step of issuing a primary endorsement of Steve Sauerberg, a Willowbrook family practice physician, in part to try to marginalize his challengers. But some Republicans have expressed fears that Sauerberg's low-volume campaign might not be enough to defeat Andy Martin and Mike Psak, a result that would cast further doubt on the GOP's relevance in Illinois.
"Anybody in this state who is part of the Republican Party should be concerned," said state Rep. Angelo "Skip" Saviano of Elmwood Park, a member of the Republican State Central Committee that endorsed Sauerberg.
Saviano said he has been disappointed in Sauerberg's effort to gain name recognition.
Republicans are still wincing over their 2004 selection of Keyes, a firebrand and former presidential candidate who became the party's substitute after GOP primary winner Jack Ryan gave up the nomination in the wake of personally damaging disclosures in his divorce file. Obama trounced Keyes.
Saviano and others said they also are concerned that Republicans could find themselves in a situation similar to what state Democrats faced in 1986. That year, two followers of political extremist Lyndon LaRouche with plain-sounding names won statewide Democratic primary nominations, forcing governor nominee Adlai E. Stevenson III to make a doomed third-party run.
Sauerberg's personal wealth filled a need among a dispirited and divided Republican Party for a contender who could fund his own Senate campaign. While Sauerberg has visited regional events held by the GOP faithful, he has not run any TV ads and only this week began running radio ads.
"I don't think I could have covered any more ground than I have," Sauerberg said. "I don't think the criticism has been fair. ... We have gotten in front of people who we feel were most critical, and we've gotten tons of endorsements and we think that should carry us through the primary."
Andy McKenna, the state's Republican chairman, said GOP leaders liked the idea of a family doctor with intimate knowledge of the health care system running against Durbin. McKenna defended Sauerberg's efforts, but even he sounded as if he was hedging his bets.
"There are no guarantees, but I think he has done the things he needs to do to be successful," McKenna said of Sauerberg.
One challenger, Martin, has been a frequent candidate in Illinois and Florida in the last three decades. His last appearance on the state's Republican primary ballot was two years ago, when he received 6,095 votes in finishing last in a five-way race in which more than 729,000 ballots were cast.
In 1973, the Illinois Supreme Court refused to allow Martin admission to the bar, saying he lacked the fitness to be an attorney.
Federal courts have repeatedly sanctioned him for what judges said is his filing of hundreds of largely meritless legal actions.
In early January, a Cook County judge tossed a lawsuit Martin filed against the Tribune alleging the newspaper portrayed him in a false light, contending that his name was not surveyed in a poll of the GOP primary candidates for governor that showed he had less than 1 percent support.
Judge Stuart Palmer ruled Martin's allegations about the poll appeared to be "simply wrong" in that Martin's name was included in the survey.
Palmer also rejected the lawsuit, in part, because he said Martin had failed to adhere to a federal court injunction preventing him from initiating lawsuits in state courts without filing a document reciting his litigation history.
In his past, Martin also has expressed anti-Semitic views. When he ran for Congress in Connecticut in 1986, the name of his congressional campaign committee included the phrase "to exterminate Jew power in America," Federal Election Commission records show.
In a 1983 personal bankruptcy case, he referred to a federal bankruptcy judge as a "crooked, slimy Jew, who has a history of lying and thieving common to members of his race." In a related court filing in the case, he also expressed sympathy to the perpetrators of the Holocaust.
Officials with the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office in Florida said an arrest warrant is still outstanding for Martin for violation of probation, stemming from a 1996 criminal mischief case in which he damaged a video camera belonging to a local TV station covering his campaign for state Senate. Martin said the legal issue is close to being resolved.
Martin said he has spent his adult life fighting powerful interests on behalf of the common man.
"We've run a good campaign," Martin said. "Yeah, I've made a lot of enemies and I hope to make a lot more before I meet my maker. Because if you do the people's work, you're going to bump into the guys who just want to do their own work."
Psak is making his first attempt at public office. He said he's worked hard as a GOP precinct committeeman on the city's West Side and he's angry that the party endorsed Sauerberg.
"I am a solid Republican," he said. "What in the world does the party have against me?"
Psak has campaigned on a vow to eliminate toll booths nationwide and said he is looking to raise $5 from millions of fellow truckers nationwide to fuel his general election campaign. But in the primary he has raised just $11,000, Psak said.
The campaign, itself, has largely been devoid of issue discussion.
Sauerberg has declined to appear with his challengers in a strategy to distinguish himself as the party-backed candidate.
But Sauerberg has created some tension within Republican ranks over his ambiguity on the always-sensitive issue of abortion. Sauerberg declines to say whether he considers himself fully against abortion or favors abortion rights in some circumstances.
Instead, he says that he is "pro babies, pro family, pro mother."
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