United States Senate election in Illinois, 2004

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2004 Primary Election

Despite initially trailing in the polls to frontrunner Blair Hull,[1] Barack Obama greatly benefited from what the Chicago Tribune called "the most inglorious campaign implosion in Illinois political history"[2] when pressure from journalists and opposing candidates, just weeks before the election, forced the unsealing of Hull's messy divorce files.[3] The files revealed Hull's ex-wife's accusations of verbal and physical abuse.[4] Hull would afterwards criticize the media, stating, "As for the press, I will never read the newspaper the same way again."[2] Obama would go on to win the Primary with 53% of the vote.[3] Obama's unexpected victory led to him being termed a "rising star" by the media.[5]

2004 General Election

Jack Ryan

Once again Obama found himself trailing to popular frontrunner Jack Ryan, and once again a candidate's campaign imploded thanks to media intervention. In an unprecedented move, the Chicago Tribune and local TV station WLS sued to force the unsealing of Ryan's divorce files, despite opposition from both Ryan and his wife, Jeri Ryan, who in the files accused Jack Ryan of trying to coerce her to perform sex acts in public. Though Ryan advisors told him he could still win if using a negative attack on Obama, Ryan refused:

"It's clear to me that a vigorous debate on the issues most likely could not take place if I remain in the race. What would take place, rather, is a brutal, scorched-earth campaign — the kind of campaign that has turned off so many voters, the kind of politics I refuse to play... I won't do that, that's not me."

-Jack Ryan[6]

Ryan then dropped out of the race (per request by the Illinois GOP[7]), following which the Illinois GOP scrambled to find a replacement, leaving Obama uncontested for weeks to campaign and build up public support. On top of all this, Obama was selected to give the keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention (July 27[8]), catapulting him into the national spotlight, and leading to further media publicity terming him a "rising star".[9]

"And what was totally unprecedented in US politics is a paper suing to get access to sealed custody documents, sealed divorce records. No real precedent for that happening. Senator Kerry, for instance, has sealed divorce records and they’re not asking him to turn them over. After I dropped out of the race, people would say, 'Hey, since Senator Kerry has sealed divorce records and they sued to have yours opened, in fairness, shouldn’t they sue to have Senator Kerry’s records opened?' And I said absolutely not. That’s the exact wrong thing to do. Just because it happened to me, it doesn’t mean that it should be the new standard. This is the new low for politics in America. We’re not going to ask everyone who is divorced to turn over what was said between spouses in the divorce hearing to the press. It’s hard enough to get people to run for office as it is. If we now expect people to turn over their marriage counseling records, you know if a husband and wife go to marriage counseling because things aren’t going well, or turn over divorce records, we’ll get nobody to run for office. This is just a horrible precedent. So, I was saying that we should stop here, let me be the only person this has happened to. Don’t ask for Ted Kennedy’s. Don’t ask for John McCain’s. Don’t ask for Joe Lieberman’s. Just stop. This is not a good precedent for American society if you really want the best and brightest to run."

-Jack Ryan[7]

Alan Keyes

Main Article: Obama born alive controversy

After a number of candidates including former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka declined to run,[10] the Illinois GOP finally settled on fiery Alan Keyes, a former Ambassador to the Economic and Social Counsel of the United Nations,[4] with less than 3 months left before the November 2004 election.[11] His sudden entrance into the state for the election was initially attacked in the press as "carpetbagging".[12][13][14] Keyes repeatedly claimed his primary motivation for entering a race he had seemingly no chance of winning was his disgust at Obama's votes on the popular Born Alive bills. Keyes, from his first day of arriving in Illinois (August 9, 2004),[15] accused Obama of having voted against bills mandating medical care for newborn children, and supporting "infanticide" (the term twice used in the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act[16]) where hospitals left newborn infants to die like garbage.[17][18]

"I'll also tell you quite clearly and unequivocally that if those [Obama's liberal votes] had been the only points of difference between us, it would not have been me! What finally caught my eye, however... was when I learned that in April 2002, Obama had cast a vote that would continue to allow LIVE BIRTH ABORTIONS in the state of Illinois. It's very important that you understand what I'm talking about. We are talking about a situation in which, in the course of an abortion procedure, a child has been born alive -- she is out of the womb, breathing and living on her own -- and Obama cast a vote AGAINST the idea that that child's life should be spared. Obama's position and his vote would make it legal to condemn that innocent babe to death!"

-Alan Keyes, August 18, 2004[19]

Obama in a debate on October 13, 2004, defended himself against Keyes' accusations of infanticide, retorting,

"If Ambassador Keyes had called me up, he could have saved himself a trip, because existing Illinois law mandates that any infant that has a chance of survival is provided life-saving treatment."[20]

However, Keyes' rhetoric, calling Obama's votes "the slaveholder's position"[15] and saying "Jesus Christ would not vote for Obama"[21] was widely ridiculed by the press. Keyes' unabashed criticism of homosexuality as "selfish hedonism" also led to his demonization in the press when he was asked by gay radio host Michelangelo Signorile if that made Mary Cheney one as well, and Keyes answered, "Of course she is. That goes by definition."[22] Major publications then criticized him as having "lashed out", "trashed", and "attacked" Mary Cheney as a sinner.[14][23][24] Keyes pointed out that he never brought up the subject, and was simply responding to the show's host, stating "You have intervened in order to try to personalize the discussion of an issue that I did not personalize. The people asking me the question did so and if that's inappropriate, blame the media. Don't blame me."[25][26]

Obama would ultimately win the election, 70% to 27%.[27]

See also


  1. Spivak, Todd (2004, March 25). "In the Black." Illinois Times.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Mendell, David (2004, March 17). "Obama Routs Democratic Foes." Chicago Tribune.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Voegeli, William (2004, March 19). "The Rise and Fall of Blair Hull." The Claremont Institute.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Spivak, Todd (2008, February 28). "Barack Obama and Me." Houston Press.
  5. Howlett, Debbie (2004, March 18). "Dems See a Rising Star in Illinois Senate Candidate." USA Today.
  6. Associated Press (2004, June 26). "Jack Ryan Abandons Senate Bid."
  7. 7.0 7.1 Sangwan, Rahul (2004, October 1). "Jack Ryan '81: The Conservative Idealist." Dartmouth Independent.
  8. Washington Post (2004, June 26). "Illinois Senate Candidate Barack Obama."
  9. Page, Susan & Despoignes, Peronet (2004, July 28). "Rising Star Brings Democrats to Their Feet." USA Today.
  10. CNN (2004, August 9). "Keyes Challenges Obama for Illinois Senate Seat."
  11. MSNBC (2008, February 20). "Obama Becomes Rising Star Among Democrats."
  12. Chicago Tribune. "The GOP's Rent-A-Senator."
  13. Washington Post (2004, August 9). "Mr. Keyes the Carpetbagger.
  14. 14.0 14.1 Pearson, Rick (2004, September 5). "Keyes, State GOP Gearing Up Blame Campaign." Chicago Tribune.
  15. 15.0 15.1 Associated Press (2004, August 9). "Keyes Assails Obama's Abortion Views."
  16. United States Congress (2003, March 13). "S.3: Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003."
  17. Smiley, Tavis (2004, August 31). "Alan Keyes on the Tavis Smiley Show." NPR.
  18. CBS2 Chicago (2004, August 30). "Alan Keyes on CBS2 Chicago This Morning." This Morning.
  19. Keyes, Alan (2004, August 18). "How You Can Help Alan Keyes for Senate!." Keyes2004 Inc.
  20. Chicago Tribune (2004, October 13). "Debate or Discussion?"
  21. Thomas, Scott (2004, September 7). "Alan Keyes on the Scott Thomas Show (AM1160 - WYLL)." Scott Thomas Show. Chicago, Illinois.
  22. Signorile, Michelangelo (2004, August 31). "Alan Keyes Discusses Homosexuality with Sirius OutQ." Sirius OutQ.
  23. Associated Press. "Keyes: Cheney's Gay Daughter Practicing Selfish Hedonism."
  24. Skalka, Jennifer & Casillas, Ofelia (2004, August 31). "Keyes Defends Comments About Cheney's Gay Daughter." Chicago Tribune.
  25. Pallasch, Abdom M. (2004, September 2). "Topinka Says He Should Apologize for 'Idiotic' Comment." Chicago Sun-Times.
  26. Mostert, Mary (2004, September 4). "Alan Keyes Teaches Sex Education Lesson to Homosexual Interviewer." RenewAmerica.
  27. CNN.com. "Election Results: U.S. Senate/Illinois." Election 2004.