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Illinois GOP Asks Maryland's Keyes to Face Obama

By Peter Slevin and Brian Faler
Thursday, August 5, 2004; Page A05

Illinois Republicans, struggling to find a credible candidate to prevent new Democratic star Barack Obama from striding unchallenged into the U.S. Senate, asked two-time presidential candidate Alan Keyes yesterday to run.

Keyes said he needed a few days to think about it before deciding.

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Keyes, a charismatic former diplomat and conservative radio host, is a Maryland resident and has never lived in Illinois. But his boosters think he could push Obama and grab headlines in a race sure to get national attention.

Leaders of the 19-member Republican State Central Committee spent much of the day discussing the situation and interviewing Keyes and the other finalist, Andrea Grubb Barthwell, a former Bush administration deputy director of national drug policy with no experience as a candidate.

Keyes, Barthwell and Obama are black, making it certain that Illinois will give the Senate its third African American member since Reconstruction.

The Republicans found themselves without a candidate last month when wealthy former businessman Jack Ryan quit. Party leaders dropped their support after his ex-wife said in divorce records that he pressed her to have sex with him at a nightclub.

Keyes, who finished second in the Utah primary and third in the Iowa caucuses in 2000, is a dynamic speaker who opposes abortion and same-sex marriage and thinks federal income tax should be abolished in favor of a large sales tax.

Asked about running for office in a state where he has never lived, Keyes said, "As a matter of principle, I don't think it's a good idea."

An Ad From Anti-Kerry Vets

A group of Vietnam War veterans will launch a television ad campaign today attacking the heart of Democratic presidential nominee John F. Kerry's bid: his military service.

The group Swift Boat Veterans for Truth is spending $500,000 to run an ad accusing Kerry -- a decorated military veteran -- of lying about his war record while he was enlisted in order to win one of his three Purple Hearts, along with his Bronze Star.

"I know John Kerry is lying about his first Purple Heart because I treated him for that injury," Lewis Letson, a member of the group, said in the ad. The spot will run in the swing states of Ohio, West Virginia and Wisconsin, the group's organizers said.

The Kerry campaign denounced the ad and denied that Letson had tended to the senator's wound. Jim Rassman, a veteran who supports Kerry and credits him with saving his life in Vietnam, accused the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth of "making it up as they go along."

The group -- a "527 organization" that is able to accept unlimited financial contributions -- has been backed by, among others, Bob Perry, a Texas businessman who has given generously to Republican causes.

Under Fire Over 'Under God'

After less than two weeks on the job, the Democratic Party's first-ever director of religious outreach resigned Wednesday after her public positions came under fire, according to Religion News Service.

The Rev. Brenda Bartella Peterson said it was "no longer possible for me to do my job effectively" after the New York-based Catholic League issued three blistering news releases attacking her positions. The Catholic League blasted Peterson for a friend-of-the-court brief she signed with 31 other clergy members that supported removing "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance.

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