Obama, Ryan to Face Off for Illinois Senate Seat

Posted March 17, 2004 at 10:59am

Illinois state Sen. Barack Obama steamrolled six primary opponents on his way to winning the Democratic Senate nod Tuesday, setting up a November showdown with investment banker-turned-teacher and fellow Harvard-educated lawyer Jack Ryan (R).

A total of 15 candidates — seven of them millionaires —vied in Tuesday’s primaries for two slots on the November ballot and, ultimately, the chance to succeed retiring Sen. Peter Fitzgerald (R) next year.

With almost all precincts reporting, Obama carried 53 percent of the vote, winning by large margins in Chicago and its suburban collar counties. If elected, Obama, the first black president of the Harvard Law Review, would be the Senate’s sole black Member and only the third to serve in the chamber in more than a century.

State Comptroller Dan Hynes, who had pinned his hopes on a strong field operation and support from the state’s Democratic establishment, ended up with 24 percent after the party machine’s muscle failed to churn out the votes Hynes promised.

Millionaire former securities trader Blair Hull, who sank more than $29 million into the race before his campaign imploded amid allegations he struck his now ex-wife during a dispute in 1998, carried 11 percent.

While Obama’s vote tally far exceeded even his campaign’s expectations, Ryan’s winning margin was somewhat closer than expected.

The Harvard business and law school graduate and former Goldman Sachs & Co. executive, who spent more than $3 million of his own money in the primary, won 36 percent of the vote.

He defeated ice cream and dairy magnate Jim Oberweis, who garnered 24 percent, and state Sen. Steve Rauschenberger in the GOP race. Rauschenberger, who had a good deal of institutional support but was short on resources, surged to a third-place finish with 20 percent of the vote even though late polling showed him mired in single digits.

With the unpredictable and at times carnival-like primary behind them, both parties are bullish on their chances of winning in November.

For Democrats, picking up the seat is essential to any hopes the party has of winning control of the Senate in November. While the state has trended Democratic in recent years, with Ryan as their nominee Republicans are looking forward to a competitive race and one in which their Democratic counterparts will be forced to spend valuable resources.