Republican challenges incumbent Durbin for Senate

October 29, 2008 4:30:51 PM PDT
An Illinois race for the U.S. Senate will have a big impact on both the local and national political landscape.But so far, the campaign could be described as low-key. A little known Republican is trying to take on a powerful incumbent.

Ill. Sen. Dick Durbin is the second most powerful Democrat in the Senate, a fiercely partisan politician and one of Ill. Sen. Barack Obama's closest friends and allies. So it's not surprising that his fundraising advantage over Steven Sauerberg is 6-1. And the polls are predicting a landslide victory.

But Sauerberg says that he is running because Durbin's an ultra-liberal in a moderate state, who once had to apologize for comments that some called unpatriotic.

The darkest day in Durbin's otherwise impressive rise to power and influence in Washington and in Illinois was likely an emotional apology on the floor of the U.S. Senate in June of 2005 for comparing Guantanamo Bay to a Soviet gulag and the alleged mistreatment of the prisoners at Guantanamo to the Nazi atrocities in World War II.

"I, of course, brought to the attention of the Senate before any other senator the torture procedures being used by this administration," Durbin said.

"The people of this state particularly military families are very bitter about Senator Durbin's comments about the troops and comparing them to Nazis," Sauerberg said.

But that turns out to be little more than a speed bump in a two-term Senate career that, according to Durbin, features tangible accomplishments in education, transportation and consumer protection, including the viability of lake Michigan.

"I didn't get elected to the United States Senate for a title. I want to help solve some of the problems facing families across Illinois. And the problems we have right now nationally and internationally are some of the most challenging of my lifetime," Durbin said.

"I wouldn't be here if I thought Senator Durbin's performance in office was satisfactory," Sauerberg said.

Durbin's Republican opponent is a 55-year-old family physician from the western suburbs who accuses Durbin of morphing from moderate Democrat to ultra-liberal over the past 12 years and says that his top priorities are energy and health care reform.

"Doctors are good at taking information in a complex setting and coming up with good conclusions. And that's what I do. And I want to apply those skills in a different setting," Sauerberg said.

From the war in Iraq - where Durbin favors a systemic sensible withdrawal, and Sauerberg says we can't afford to leave - to healthcare - where Durbin supports a universal approach to Sauerberg's individual ownership of portable policies. On the financial bailout of Wall Street, Durbin voted yes and Sauerberg says he would've voted no.

These candidates are miles apart. And the same is true of fundraising, where Durbin has an 8-1 advantage. And the pre-election polls suggest a Durbin landslide.

But Sauerberg's sunk more than a million of his own dollars into the campaign because he said he believes that Illinois needs a change.

"If you like your government the way its is, vote for Senator Dick Durbin. If you are tired of the same old thing, it's time for change," Sauerberg said.

Durbin's also arguing for change by supporting his close friend and Senate colleague Obama for president.

"I hope my experience here and my connections and friendship with Senator Obama will be helpful in guiding this nation in the right direction," Drubin said.

This race has three other candidates who haven't gotten onto the radar screen so far. Kathy Cummings of the Green Party, Libertarian candidate Larry Stafford and Chad Coppie of the Constitution Party are al running.

The Republican Party hasn't put much time, effort or money into Sauerberg's campaign. But he's kicked in $1.3 million of his own dollars to pay for a few TV and radio ads, compared to the barrage of Durbin ads that fill the airwaves 24-7.

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