Thursday, March 18, 2004

The Boys from Illinois
Growing up five miles from the Illinois state line, living down there for three years in the 1980s, and being a regular listener to Chicago radio until relatively recently, I used to be pretty well plugged in to Illinois politics. But I never realized how long I'd been away until I started reading stories about this week's Senate primary down there, and realized I'd never heard of anybody running. Where are all the heavyweights, I wondered? Former governors Jim Edgar or Jim Thompson? Former state attorney general, comptroller, and perennial Senate candidate Roland Burris? Glenn Poshard, Jim Ryan, Corinne Wood, and Patrick O'Malley, all of whom who ran unsuccessfully for governor recently? Doesn't anybody want to be in the Senate? Oprah Winfrey? Sammy Sosa? Hello? Perhaps it was fitting--the candidates were running to replace Republican Peter Fitzgerald, another multi-millionaire who basically bought his seat in 1998 (defeating the by-then-staggeringly unpopular Carol Moseley Braun, who would have lost to almost any Republican, living or dead) and is probably the most anonymous member of the Senate, having done and said practically nothing while in office.

As it turned out, the Republicans nominated investment banker Jack Ryan, who is not the fictional character from the Tom Clancy novels, but is best known for being the ex-husband of the actress who played Seven-of-Nine on one of the Star Trek sequels (and whose divorce from the actress has been a scandal in the campaign). Another investment banker with an even messier divorce scandal, Blair Hull, spent $29 million of his own money trying to get the Democratic nomination, but he tanked with nine percent of the vote after being the front runner last year. A more interesting candidate got the Democratic nom: State Senator Barack Obama. Obama is quite an American story--42 years old, biracial, liberal, thoughtful, and a candidate with loads of potential as a leader. (Under the radar, Illinois Democrats are growing a pretty good stable of leaders--what I've heard of Govenor Rod Blagojevic has impressed me during his first year in office, along with representatives Jesse Jackson Jr. and Rahm Emanuel.)

Recommended reading: Speaking of losing to dead people, The Atlantic is out with a profile of Attorney General John Ashcroft. In an online interview, author Jeffrey Rosen notes that Ashcroft isn't driven by ideology as much as he is by a desire to be popular. Also, the Progress Report expanded on my post of yesterday (well, they didn't do it because of my post, but what they posted expands on what I posted) about the false equation of the Spanish election results with a victory for Al Qaeda.

Coming later today: Mr. Bartlett's Iraq War Anniversary Address to the Nation.

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