By Peter Savodnik - 05/17/05 12:00 AM EDT
Illinois Republicans will meet next month to begin clearing the GOP primary field in the 8th District so that a consensus candidate can be chosen to challenge Rep. Melissa Bean (D-Ill.) next year.
The strategy was revealed yesterday by Dr. William Dam, who, as the district’s GOP state Central Committee man, will play a leading role in shaping the Republican effort.
“Will there be an effort to get all parties involved, including the candidates, to work toward a consensus of who has the best chance of prevailing?” Dam said. “Yes, there is discussion along those lines.”
But the state GOP remains divided more than two years after Gov. George Ryan (R) left office engulfed by scandal, and several Republicans voiced confusion about Dam’s remarks, saying they knew of no efforts to narrow the GOP field.
David McSweeney, a former investment banker who announced last week that he would run for the House seat, and McSweeney’s campaign manager, Jim Thacker, say no one has told them anything about it.
“I’m running for the United States Congress no matter what,” McSweeney said, “Nothing is going to make me back down.”
And a competitive primary is exactly what the state party needs right now, one Illinois Republican source said.
“Clearing the field is the worst thing — the absolute worst thing,” the source argued. “It makes it so nobody has to work. … We don’t have precinct captains. Nobody’s done anything. There was no organization. If we don’t have a primary to build enthusiasm and get our nominee press and have people on the ground actually going door to door, this will be a disaster.”
McSweeney pledged in his announcement last week that he would spend “at least seven figures” of his own money on the race in the Chicago suburbs.
Other possible candidates include Teresa Bartels, a businesswoman; Al Salvi, a former state legislator and radio-show host; state Rep. Bob Churchill; Ken Arnold, a former local GOP official; and Bonnie Thomson Carter, a local government official.
Palatine Mayor Rita Mullins, state Reps. Paul Froelich and Terry Parke, businessman Jack Martin, Zion Township GOP Chairman Guy Garrison and Guernee Mayor Don Rudny have also been mentioned as potential Republican challengers.
Dam said GOP officials are trying to make their excisions quietly — “not publicly” — but hope to settle on a candidate soon so that everyone can rally around.
A GOP operative close to Dam said “narrowing” the field to four or five viable contenders would be acceptable if no single candidate can be agreed on.
Dam said he had discussed next month’s meeting, and hiring a part-time consultant to monitor Bean’s voting record with state GOP Chairman Andy McKenna. That conversation took place at a Central Committee meeting Friday in Springfield, the state capital.
The consultant would cost $20,000-50,000 a year, Dam said, adding that he was seeking money from Republican state and local officials and members of Illinois’ congressional delegation.
Dam said, “I just personally don’t feel like we can wait until next year” to find a strong challenger. “We should be at fever pitch by March.”
U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert and Reps. Ray LaHood and Mark Kirk, all Illinois Republicans, have helped shape the primary field, Dam said.
But an Illinois Republican source disputed that, saying, “The Speaker’s office has had nothing to do with this race. … Ray LaHood, I think, is pretty busy figuring out if he’s going to run for governor.” Kirk, the source added, “has met with all the candidates.”
Dam said he had been working with Mike Stokke, Hastert’s deputy chief of staff. Neither Stokke nor his assistant, Tim Kennedy, responded to e-mail messages seeking comment.
The confusion and disagreement in the 8th District are reminiscent of last year’s implosion of the Senate candidacy of Jack Ryan (R), who exited the race after divorce records alleging sexual improprieties were made public.
Beating Bean will be a Republican priority in 2006, given that the first-term congresswoman knocked off a veteran GOP lawmaker in 2004 and that most party officials consider the district their turf.
Republicans have accused Bean of straddling the ideological divide, voting with the Democrats to placate party elders while backing Republican measures to keep her constituents happy.
Bean raised more than $450,000 in the first quarter of the year, bringing her cash on hand to $359,000.
“She ran as and is a fiscal conservative and a social moderate, which is exactly what the district is,” Bean’s spokesman, Brian Herman, said.
Alluding to Bean’s unsuccessful House bid in 2002 and successful campaign last year, he added: “How she’s voting should not be a surprise to anybody because this is exactly what she said she would do in four years of campaigning. If the other side is pretending to be surprised, it’s either because they believed their own spin or they’re trying to present her as something she’s not.”