Monday, February 26, 2007

Durbin can be beat

The mountain looks pretty high for those who would like to see Dick Durbin sent packing. Illinois, a blue state getting bluer. A senator in majority leadership who will raise tons of cash. A national ticket that might include the other senator from Illinois, Barack Obama, who Durbin has skillfully attached himself to all but surgically.

But he can be beat. Many of Durbin's pluses are also minuses. He's more vulnerable than he looks now.

Eric Krol of the Daily Herald gives us the early line on several possible self-funders. The Republican Party apparatus in Illinois is so battered by three straight thrashings at the polls that it believes the only way to defeat Durbin is with a stealthy wealthy candidate. Probably so.

An existing political figure in Illinois such as state Sen. Bill Brady, dairy magnate Jim Oberweis or several others probably would have great difficulty raising enough money to avoid being trampled by Durbin's huge war chest. Then state Sen. Jim Durkin got the endorsement of both Chicago newspapers but lacked money to air a single TV or radio commercial against Durbin and got beat 60-38.

If one of those political figures wanted the job bad enough and entered the race soon and began campaigning hard, they could become a credible candidate. They should remember the lesson of Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, a rather nameless congressman who entered the race for governor when it looked like he had little chance. Events changed rather dramatically in the meantime and all of sudden he squeaked by a tough primary and emerged as a favorite in the general election.

The political climate will undoubtedly change for the worse for Illinois Democrats. Massive corruption investigations will produce indictments this year against top cronies of Blagojevich and possibly Chicago Mayor Richard Daley. Durbin hasn't exactly distanced himself from either.

As for the national ticket Obama factor, a shrewd Republican can turn that against Durbin. Obama says people are tired of partisan bickering and small politics. There's nobody in politics who is more partisan and small than Dick Durbin. His opponent should use Obama's words against Durbin. Find Durbin's catalog of floor screeds and ask Obama is this what he has in mind when he talks about a new tone of gentility?

Illinois voters no doubt tilt left but they don't like a partisan robot and Durbin makes the Roomba look independent.

That's the attack part of the equation. That Republican self-funder must have a compelling personality and story to counterract a lack of governmental experience. And they would have to be acceptable to the Republican base and have an issue or two that would have breakthrough Perot-like cross-over appeal, such as advocacy of a flat tax.

There may be nobody out there to fill the template. I'm not so sure, however. Call it the Audacity of Hope.

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