Potential Bean, Durbin challenger Greenberg to make decision soon

Businessman Steve Greenberg is weighing whether to challenge Rep. Melissa Bean (D-Ill.), Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), or neither in 2008, and he will go public with his decision around May 15, Greenberg told The Hill on Monday.

The young, wealthy political newcomer met with the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) and National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) in Washington last week and said he is now more seriously considering a House bid in one of the GOP’s top targeted districts, Illinois’s 8th.

ADVERTISEMENT
In February, Greenberg expressed interest in running against Durbin. But he said on Monday that his meeting with NRCC Chairman Tom Cole (R-Okla.) and Political Director Terry Carmack altered his perspective.

“When I went in there, I wasn’t thinking about it as much,” Greenberg said. “When I walked out of there, I was thinking, ‘This makes sense, and this could be a real possibility.’”

Bean is a second-term Democrat in a district that gave President Bush 56 percent in the last two presidential elections. Her seat was one of the few that defensive Republicans went after toward the end of 2006, and it figures to remain a top GOP target for the foreseeable future.

Greenberg, 36, invests in turning around struggling businesses and has the ability to finance his own run.

He said he agrees with estimates that a run against Durbin would cost $15 million to $20 million and that a run against Bean would cost $5 million to $6 million. He emphasizes he needs to raise funds, but he won’t say how much of his own money he’s willing to contribute to a bid.

The Durbin race — a long shot in an expensive state — is tailor-made for a self-funding candidate. The second-ranking Democrat in the Senate already has $4 million in cash on hand and has said he is aiming to raise as much as $30 million.

The Bean race was among the most expensive House races in the country in 2006, and Bean already raised $475,000 in the first quarter this year. David McSweeney (R), who lost to Bean by seven points in November, spent $5 million of his own and got millions in party support in the losing effort, according to the Campaign Finance Institute.

The Bean race, on paper, is easily the more winnable of the two. But Greenberg said the odds don’t factor much into his decision. Instead, he said, he’s more concerned with doing what is best for the state and national Republican parties, which are trying to get their message to resonate in Illinois after struggling there in recent years.

“There are a lot of people who think this state is not Republican, and I think it is,” Greenberg said. “In this state, people have not been proud Reagan Republicans, and we’ve been trying to pander to be what I would call Democrat-lite. I think that’s the absence of leadership in the candidacies.”

Republicans saw the race for an open Senate seat fall apart before their eyes in 2004, as nominee Jack Ryan bowed out amid a sex scandal. Chicago Bears Hall of Famer Mike Ditka turned down a bid, and former presidential candidate Alan Keyes filled in, only to fall by a lopsided 70-27 margin to Sen. Barack Obama (D).

The GOP also failed to field a strong challenge to Durbin in 2002, when he beat Republican Jim Durkin 60-38.

But the party did count a success in 2006 when Rep. Peter Roskam won an open-seat race in the 6th district, long held by Rep. Henry Hyde (R).

State Republican Party Chairman Andy McKenna said Greenberg’s business background would play well in the district. Republicans say Bean’s vote with Democrats on the contentious Employee Free Choice Act this year was anti-business and can be used against her.

“People who come from the business community have the ability to make a case about how some of the Democratic policies are not friendly to job creation,” McKenna said.

Greenberg, a former pro hockey prospect who only briefly attended college, would be vulnerable to attacks on his limited political background and qualifications. His few political experiences to date include his service on the state GOP finance committee and as a precinct committeeman.

“The voters of the Illinois 8th district want an effective member like Bean who represents their values, not a lightweight,” Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman Ryan Rudominer said.

Spokespersons for the NRCC and NRSC both said they would welcome Greenberg into the race.

“In order to win back that seat, he simply needs to win back Republican voters,” NRCC spokesman Ken Spain said. “He doesn’t have to win over a single Democrat.”

NRSC spokeswoman Rebecca Fisher called Greenberg a “very impressive candidate” and said: “We feel confident that there will be a significant challenge to Sen. Durbin.”

Chicago Board of Trade executive Kevin J.P. O’Hara, who can also fund his own campaign, has said he is interested in a run against Durbin as well. State Sen. Bill Brady and DuPage County attorney Joe Birkett, who ran for lieutenant governor in 2006 and attorney general in 2002, also are rumored to be options.

For Bean’s seat, attorney Kathy Salvi, who finished second to McSweeney in the 2006 primary, has been mentioned as a possible candidate. Salvi spent more than $1 million of her own funds in the primary and took about one-third of the vote.
A state Republican source said Joe Walsh, who ran for Congress in the mid-1990s, is also considering both the Bean and Durbin races, but added that Walsh will probably not be able to raise much money.

Greenberg said the main factor for him is his family — he has three young children — along with his involvement in foster care. He is also involved in an organization he founded that uses scholarship athletes to raise money to help fallen soldiers’ families send their kids to college.