In Illinois, a Contest of Contrasts
Millionaire to Face Son of Kenyan Immigrant for Senate Seat
By David S. Broder
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 17, 2004; Page A08
Illinois voters yesterday set up an unusually intriguing Senate contest for November by choosing an African American Democratic activist-turned-legislator and law professor to run against a Republican multimillionaire Wall Street investor-turned-parochial school teacher.
Barack Obama, the Democrat, and Jack Ryan, the Republican, bested 13 others seeking to succeed retiring Sen. Peter Fitzgerald (R) in a race that represents one of the better chances for a party switch in this year's lineup of Senate races.
With 94.6 percent of the vote counted, Obama had 52.9 percent, to 23.8 percent for state Comptroller Daniel W. Hynes, with M. Blair Hull third among the seven Democrats with 10.7 percent. Ryan was ahead in the GOP field with 36 percent, to 23.3 percent for Jim Oberweis and 19.4 percent for Steven J. Rauschenberger. Andy McKenna had 14.9 percent, and four other Republicans had less than 3 percent.
Illinois has been trending Democratic in recent election cycles, and in 2002 the party won the governorship and both houses of the legislature. If Obama wins Nov. 2, he will be the third African American elected to the Senate since Reconstruction, after Carol Moseley Braun (D-Ill.) and Edward R. Brooke (R-Mass.).
Obama and Ryan displayed winning personalities during the Illinois primary, but the contrast in their backgrounds and personal histories could not be more vivid.
Obama, 42, a state senator from Chicago's South Side and a lecturer in constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School, is the mixed-race son of an immigrant father. His father, a Kenyan by birth, and his mother, who was from Kansas, separated when he was 2, and Obama spent most of his early years with relatives in Hawaii.
With a degree from Columbia University, he moved to Chicago 20 years ago as a community organizer and quickly won the friendship of prominent progressives in the city. With their encouragement, he went to Harvard Law School, where he became the first black man chosen as editor of the law review. Returning to Chicago, he joined a civil rights law firm and in 1996 won a seat in the state Senate. Four years later, he challenged Rep. Bobby L. Rush (D) in a primary but was defeated.
Ryan, 44, the third of six children in a close-knit Catholic family, was raised in the tony Chicago suburb of Wilmette; attended New Trier High School, which has the reputation of being one of the country's top public secondary schools; and played football at Dartmouth. He gained law and business administration degrees from Harvard and joined the Goldman Sachs investment banking firm, first in New York and then as a managing director of the Chicago office.
The Ryan family had a tradition of public service. After graduate school, Ryan worked for a time at a church-sponsored refugee center in Houston for migrants from Central America. Four years ago, he left the financial world and became a teacher at Hales Franciscan High School, a boys' parochial school with a largely minority roster on Chicago's South Side.
Ryan was one of several multimillionaires seeking to emulate the success the self-financed Fitzgerald scored six years ago, when he became the upset winner over incumbent Braun. An independent figure who clashed frequently with House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), Fitzgerald surprised his party by announcing last year that he would step down after one term.
The most free-spending of the millionaire candidates this year was Democratic investor Hull, a first-time candidate who broke the records with his TV campaign. Hull appeared to be on his way to defeating Obama and the other major Democratic contender, Hynes, who had most of the Chicago party organization and labor support.
But Chicago newspapers uncovered details of Hull's divorce, including allegations of physical abuse, and his support took a nose dive. . Obama, with backing in the black community and a stack of newspaper endorsements, moved ahead of Hynes as the votes shifted.
Ryan, who was divorced from his TV actress wife Jeri Ryan in 1999, has been able to keep the records sealed. He has repeatedly assured party officials that they will not provide ammunition for the Democrats this fall.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company