Keyes a finalist to seek Senate seat from Illinois

Md. resident would face an uphill run against state legislator Obama

August 04, 2004|By Paul West | Paul West,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - Alan Keyes, a two-time loser as a Maryland candidate for U.S. Senate, is one of two finalists to be the Republican Senate nominee in Illinois against Barack Obama, the speaker who created the loudest buzz at last week's Democratic convention.

Keyes, of Gaithersburg, would face a decidedly uphill run against Obama, a 42-year-old state legislator from Chicago. Obama, keynote speaker at the Boston convention, has raised $10 million and is regarded as almost a prohibitive favorite to become only the third African-American to be elected to the U.S. Senate in more than a century.

The other finalist is Dr. Andrea Grubb Barthwell, 50, a former official of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. A political novice, she was accused of "lewd and abusive behavior" while serving as a top official in the White House office.

Like Obama, Keyes and Barthwell are black. But unlike Keyes, Barthwell is an Illinois resident. The Constitution requires only that a senator be a state resident on Election Day, a qualification Keyes would seem to have little trouble meeting.

State GOP Chairwoman Judy Baar Topinka said last night that Keyes and Barthwell would be interviewed by party officials in Chicago today.

For more than a month, Illinois Republicans have searched without success for a candidate to take on Obama. Among those wooed and lost: former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka, who said he might be too tempted to punch someone who disagreed with him on the Senate floor.

Party leaders heard from almost a dozen potential candidates as they sought a replacement for Jack Ryan, who won the primary then quit the race in June after his divorce papers were made public. In the papers, Ryan's wife claimed that he had unsuccessfully pressed her to perform sex acts in front of other patrons of clubs in Paris, New Orleans and New York.

The Senate hopefuls delivering pitches yesterday to the state Republican committee included a man who wears a white wig in the style of George Washington and lives out of his car, which he calls Air Ford One.

Keyes, who said he had a schedule conflict, did not appear. Supporters on the party committee made the point that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, an Illinois native and transplanted New Yorker by way of Arkansas, had overcome charges that she was a carpetbagger.

The Harvard-educated Keyes, a one-time talk show host who makes his living as a public speaker, would provide Obama with a formidable debate opponent - and give state voters a stark choice.

A conservative, Keyes ran unsuccessfully for his party's presidential nomination, in 1996 and 2000.

A fellow Republican from Maryland, Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, endorsed Keyes' run for the Senate.

"With Alan Keyes' extensive diplomatic and foreign policy experience as an ambassador at the United Nations, he will offer voters a vigorous and informed debate about the biggest challenge facing our country, which is winning the war on terrorism without losing our civil liberties," the Western Maryland congressman said last night through a spokesman.

Keyes, 54, was a Reagan administration appointee to the United Nations, with ambassadorial rank. He lost to Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes in the 1988 Senate race and to Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski in 1992.

He was a radio talk-show host in the 1990s. His short-lived cable TV show, Alan Keyes Is Making Sense, was canceled by MSNBC in 2002.

Keyes could not be reached for comment last night.

Sun staff writer Kimberly A.C. Wilson and the Associated Press contributed to this article.

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