By Peter Savodnik - 03/01/05 12:00 AM EST
Former Illinois Attorney General Jim Ryan will host a party next month for state Sen. Peter Roskam — who is hoping to succeed Republican Rep. Henry Hyde — in the clearest sign yet that Hyde will retire next year.
An Illinois Republican close to Roskam called the “thank-you event” for Roskam’s supporters “a shot across the bow” meant to discourage other Republicans from running, should Hyde bow out. The most prominent Republican other than Roskam said to be interested in a House bid is state Sen. Dan Cronin.
The March 10 event will take place at a country club in Dupage County, outside Chicago. It is expected to draw more than 600 guests.
“It’s basically to bring together all of Peter’s supporters from the past,” the Republican said. Looking to the future, the GOP source said, “It’s certainly to rally the troops.”
He added: “It’s a significant sign with the other names floating out there that Jim Ryan is heading a Peter Roskam event. I think it’s more of a symbolic gesture than anything else.”
Roskam said that for now he’s waiting to see what the congressman does. “If he runs for reelection, I’m wholeheartedly with him,” said the state senator, who said he worked for Hyde in the 1980s. “I think if he felt 100 percent healthy, he would run for reelection and not give it a second thought.”
Roskam said he has spoken with activists in the anti-abortion and gun-rights communities about a congressional campaign, but he said he has not consulted with other members of the Illinois GOP congressional delegation.
Cronin called Ryan “an old friend” who lives three blocks from him, in Elmhurst. The state senator said he had spoken with Ryan, who, he said, “apologized to me. He said it doesn’t constitute anything but a visit to someone. ... I said, ‘Go ahead.’”
On Friday, Cronin said, he will host an annual fundraiser that drew 1,100 people last year. Guests at this year’s event will include Reps. Ray LaHood and Judy Biggert, among other leading state Republicans, Cronin said. The fundraiser is for Cronin’s state Senate coffers.
Hyde is expected to make an announcement about his plans in April, when he turns 81. Privately, many Republicans in Illinois and Washington have said that the 16th-term congressman, who is not in good health, is certain to step down.
Ryan, a former state attorney general, ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2002. Many Illinois Republicans tried, to no avail, to recruit Ryan to run for the Senate last year after Republican nominee Jack Ryan dropped his bid.
Talk of Hyde’s possible retirement comes at the same time that some California Republicans are contemplating life without Rep. Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) in the House.
Like Hyde, Thomas is serving his last term as a prominent committee chairman. Hyde chairs the House International Relations Committee; Thomas heads the Ways and Means Committee.
State Sen. Roy Ashburn, who lost a congressional race last year against current Rep. Jim Costa (D-Calif.), is strongly considering running for Thomas’s seat. Ashburn said he believes that that the 14th-term congressman will retire.
The state senator identified three signs that, he said, indicate Thomas is stepping down: news accounts of Thomas’s possible departure, the end of Thomas’s chairmanship and the fact that Thomas, at 63, is relatively young and may want to pursue a post-congressional career.
“He’s not the kind of guy to let others write his political obituary,” Ashburn said.
State Assemblyman Kevin McCarthy, a Republican who is presumed to be Thomas’s handpicked successor, downplayed any possibility of Thomas’s retiring. “Nobody can play musical chairs until there is music, and Thomas owns the record player,” McCarthy said.
McCarthy serves as minority leader in the Democrat-controlled state Assembly. He declined to say whether he’d had any conversations with Thomas about his future political plans.
The assemblyman — who can run for another, two-year term in 2006 but would be term-limited out of office in 2008 — called himself a “common-sense conservative.”
Thomas spokesman Tim Wood released a statement yesterday indicating that the congressman has no intention of retiring.
Thomas has previously indicated that he may pursue a waiver to stay on as Ways and Means Committee chairman in the next Congress. While some said the chances of Thomas securing a waiver are unlikely, others on Capitol Hill noted that, despite rubbing Democrats and some Republicans the wrong way, Thomas has played a crucial role in passing major pieces of President Bush’s domestic agenda through Congress.
A Democratic source said that for now there are no candidates to run for Thomas’s seat. California is notorious for having uncompetitive districts; in the last election, no congressional or state legislative seats switched party hands.
Given the influx of Hispanics, the Democratic source added, the party could be poised to win the seat in the next two to four years.
The Democrat also said that consultant Christine Cegelis, who garnered 45 percent of the vote when she challenged Hyde in 2004, is looking to run again. “She is interested in running again and has talked to donors about the Melissa Bean model,” the Democrat said, referring to the Democrat in the nearby 8th District who beat veteran Rep. Phil Crane (R-Ill.) in one of last year’s biggest upsets.
Roskam, who ran unsuccessfully in a congressional race against Judy Biggert in 1998, dismissed that possibility, saying Hyde is loved by voters in his 6th District. “Henry Hyde is not Phil Crane,” Roskam said.
Hyde spokeswoman Jennifer Palmer could not be reached for comment.