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THE NATION

Candidates Miles Apart in History-Making Illinois Election

Democrat Barack Obama outpaces GOP latecomer Alan Keyes in the first Senate race with blacks representing both major parties.

October 13, 2004|P.J. Huffstutter | Times Staff Writer

On Sunday, he strolled along the streets of Marengo at the city's annual Settler's Day parade. Keyes grinned at cheering spectators. Afterward, he joined a couple hundred supporters to grill bratwursts, munch chips and talk politics.

"We're trying to reach every part of the state," Keyes said. "Especially places like Marengo, where there is common sense and a sense of decency and moral values."

Clarence Dillance, a shop owner who came to meet Keyes, said the event cemented his vote. "I'm proud to be a Republican, and I want to vote for Mr. Keyes," Dillance said. "I really believe in what he says."

But Keyes has not been well-received by African Americans, said Robert Starks, director of the Harold Washington Institute at the Center for Inner City Studies at Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago.

A poll conducted last month by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and KMOV-TV showed that only 2% of Illinois' black voters were supporting Keyes.

"We started to hear what both candidates were saying and how they were saying it. I think the Republicans misjudged how we would react to Keyes' nomination," said Cecelia Hardnett, 61, a state contractor who attended the Democratic rally in Decatur.

Hardnett stopped speaking as Obama and a cluster of reporters -- including a writer from Vogue magazine -- walked through the door. When Obama stepped on stage to speak, the audience clung to his words.

He chuckled about his big ears and having a name no one can pronounce. He spoke about church and faith, and proclaimed that having a Republican in the White House had led to "our values being under siege."

Afterward, Hardnett stepped in line to meet Obama. Nearly everyone held a pen, waiting for an autograph.

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