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THE RACE TO THE WHITE HOUSE

State Legislator Wins Illinois Primary

Barack Obama will be Democratic candidate against GOP's Jack Ryan in Senate race.

March 17, 2004|From Associated Press

CHICAGO — State Sen. Barack Obama, a former civil rights lawyer, Tuesday defeated six opponents to win the Democratic U.S. Senate primary.

Obama, 42, rolled up big margins in Chicago and its Cook County suburbs, trouncing his nearest rival, state Comptroller Dan Hynes, who was pinning his hopes on help from powerful city ward leaders.

Obama, a Harvard-trained lawyer whose father was a government official in Kenya, had 54% of the vote to 23% for Hynes.

Republican Jack Ryan, a millionaire investment banker-turned-teacher, defeated seven other candidates to capture the GOP nomination. Ryan had 36% of the vote to 23% for his closest rival, dairy owner Jim Oberweis. State Sen. Steve Rauchenberger was in third place with 20%.

The primary had been marked by big spending -- seven of the 15 candidates were millionaires -- and dominated in its closing weeks by talk of drug use and divorce scandals.

Ryan was the GOP front-runner heading into the primary, but came under pressure from party leaders and rivals to unseal records of his divorce from actress Jeri Ryan of "Star Trek: Voyager" and "Boston Public."

Obama and Ryan will compete to fill the seat of retiring GOP Sen. Peter Fitzgerald. National party leaders view the Illinois election as a crucial race in determining who will control the Senate, where Republicans hold a 51-48 edge, with one Democratic-leaning independent.

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 Brooke (R-Mass.), both former senators.

The candidates largely tried to focus on such issues as healthcare and immigration but grumbled that their message was having a hard time getting through.

"If you didn't have a glitzy sex life and you weren't using drugs, you couldn't get covered," said Democratic candidate Maria Pappas, the Cook County treasurer. "It's overshadowed everything."

In the closing days of the campaign, Obama's television ads featured an endorsement from Sheila Simon, the daughter of the late Democratic Sen. Paul Simon (D-Ill.), one of the state's most popular politicians. She described Obama as "cut from that same cloth" as her father.

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