Alan Keyes, a Maryland resident and former presidential candidate, agreed yesterday to run for Senate in Illinois against Democrat Barack Obama, a state senator who is favored to win the GOP-held seat.
Keyes, a political commentator and writer who ran unsuccessfully for president twice as well as for Maryland's Senate seat in 1988 and 1992, is a 54-year-old conservative African American who served as ambassador to the U.N. Economic and Social Council under President Ronald Reagan. Obama is also African American, ensuring the Senate its fifth black senator in history. Both men are Harvard graduates.
"My decision to accept the challenge of the Illinois Republican Party is based on deep issues of national principle that are the sort of issues that require we put our allegiance to state sovereignty second to our allegiances to the national principles that make us a free people and are actually the basis of our union," Keyes said in an interview after his announcement.
He added that Obama rejects "the declaration of principles our country was founded on" by backing abortion rights, for example.
Both men are known for their oratory. Obama, 42, gave a keynote address before the Democratic National Convention last month. He surprised some political veterans by clinching his party's primary and outpacing Republican Jack Ryan, who left a career as an investment banker to become an inner-city schoolteacher. Ryan later dropped out of the Senate race because of a sex scandal, prompting Republicans to seek another candidate to run for the seat held by Sen. Peter Fitzgerald, who is retiring after one term.
Obama welcomed Keyes to the race yesterday and called on him to run a positive campaign. "As Mr. Keyes begins to travel the state, he will see that families here are concerned about quality jobs, making health care more affordable and ensuring our children get the best education possible," he said in a written statement. "And Illinoisans want a Senate candidate who will attack the problems they and their families face rather than spending time attacking each other."
Keyes, who must move to Illinois by Nov. 2 to qualify for the seat, made his announcement at a rally in the Chicago suburb of Arlington Heights. In the past he questioned the decision of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) to change residences to run for the Senate.
Keyes acknowledged that he "gave no remote thought of coming to Illinois until six days ago" and said he told state party officials last week that when it comes to switching states to run for office, "as a matter of principle, I don't think it's a good idea."
But he said the people of Illinois need his help in making sure that someone who holds principles contrary to those of Abraham Lincoln is not elected. "You have to ask yourself: Are we in a position where if I do nothing the principles of national union will be sacrificed?" he said.
Brad Woodhouse, spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, questioned the move.
"Nothing could bear out more the desperation of the Illinois Republican Party like having to go recruit a person from Maryland to run for a U.S. Senate seat in Illinois, someone who is clearly out of step with the moderate views of Illinois voters and families," he said.
Keyes, an abortion opponent and fiscal conservative, participated in a Georgia rally last year to keep a parchment inscribed with the Ten Commandments posted in a county courthouse. He opposes affirmative action as well as gay rights, and supports establishing a national sales tax rather than relying on income taxes.
During the 2000 presidential race he described himself as the "sentimental favorite" who had been slighted by the media, and at one point he even jumped in a mosh pit in Des Moines.
Keyes said he will satisfy the legal requirements of residency "right away," though he said it will take him longer to find a home for his family.
When asked what he thought of the fact that Illinois was almost assured of getting a black U.S. senator next year, Keyes said it reminded him of how Serena and Venus Williams's father must have felt watching his daughters compete for the Wimbledon title.
"No matter how the day turned out, it was going to be a proud day for the Williams family," he said.
Staff researcher Donald Pohlman contributed to this report.