- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 4, 2004

CHICAGO (AP) — Illinois Republican leaders yesterday asked two-time presidential hopeful Alan Keyes to be their Senate candidate.

But like a string of previous possibilities, Mr. Keyes said he needed a few days to think about it, telling a news conference last night that he would make an announcement by Sunday.

“If I do step forward to accept this challenge, I will be laying it all on the line,” he said.

It’s been a laborious six-week search as Republicans have sought a candidate willing to tackle the daunting task of taking on Democratic rising star Barack Obama in the Senate race after Republican primary winner Jack Ryan dropped his bid.

With Mr. Keyes and Mr. Obama as the candidates to fill the seat of retiring Sen. Peter G. Fitzgerald, it would be the first U.S. Senate election with two black candidates representing the major parties and likely to produce only the fifth black U.S. senator in history.

“I think it’s a hopeful sign for the country,” Mr. Obama said yesterday. “I think obviously when we have 100 U.S. senators and none are African-American, that’s something that doesn’t just trouble African-Americans, I think it troubles all Americans.”

Mr. Obama, a state senator, has a huge head start: He has raised more than $10 million, has drawn thousands of people to campaign stops and gave the keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention last week.

As he arrived from Maryland for his first face-to-face interview with the committee yesterday, Mr. Keyes didn’t directly say he wanted to run — he said he was there to consult with the party’s leadership about the best way to make sure there was an exchange of ideas.

Asked what he thought about making a Senate run in a state where he had never lived, he said: “As a matter of principle, I don’t think it’s a good idea.

“It has to be something where I would be convinced it’s not only consonant with federalism as I understand it, but that it’s in the best interest of the state and of the nation,” Mr. Keyes said.

Mr. Keyes, 53, opposes abortion and homosexual rights, wants to replace the income tax with a national sales tax, and calls affirmative action a “government patronage program.”

He was appointed ambassador to the United Nations Economic and Social Council by President Reagan and served as assistant secretary of state for international organization affairs before making two Senate runs from his home state of Maryland.

He drew only 38.2 percent of the vote in 1988 against Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, and did even worse in 1992 against Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski.

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