- The Washington Times - Friday, April 18, 2003

Poll numbers suggest that the decision this week by Sen. Peter G. Fitzgerald, Illinois Republican, against seeking another term in 2004 actually may improve the Republicans' chances of holding on to their razor-thin majority in the Senate.
A survey conducted April 8 through 11 by Hill Research Consultants, a Republican polling firm, determined that 45 percent of Illinois voters thought Mr. Fitzgerald deserved re-election, and 25 percent said he didn't deserve to return to the Senate.
Anything less than 50 percent approval for such a question is considered a bad omen. Mr. Fitzgerald also polled below 50 percent against several potential Democratic opponents.
"I almost think this might make our chances better because he was polling so poorly," an Illinois Republican activist said. "Now if we can get [former Illinois Gov. Jim] Edgar to run, you may even see some Democrats drop out."
Republicans close to Mr. Edgar said White House political adviser Karl Rove has been lobbying hard for the popular former governor and friend of President Bush to get into the race.
"He'd be our best bet, I would think," said another Illinois Republican source in this case a former Fitzgerald staffer. "If Edgar doesn't run, you'll have a huge slew of people entering the race and it will be a big mess."
Democrats have carried Illinois in the last three presidential elections, and party leaders hope that electoral trend will enable them to recapture the seat.
"The lay of the land in Illinois tells us we have a great, great shot at picking up this seat," said Brad Woodhouse, spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
Mr. Fitzgerald announced Monday that he wanted to spend more time with his wife and son rather than embark on another tough and expensive campaign for the Senate. He spent $13.1 million of his own money in 1998 to win with 50.3 percent of the vote against a scandal-ridden incumbent Democrat, Carol Moseley-Braun.
Mr. Fitzgerald had only $706,603 in "cash on hand" at the end of 2002, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, and likely would have had to dig deep into his personal fortune again. Former aides and Illinois Republican staffers say they are relieved he is not running again.
"I don't think there is any question that he was the most vulnerable Republican incumbent," a senior Republican Party official said.
Former Fitzgerald staffers said the 43-year-old businessman always seemed like a poor fit in the chummy club of the Senate. He rarely was seen glad-handing with colleagues on the Senate floor, and even made enemies of many in the Illinois Republican delegation in the House.
"He doesn't have a lot of friends in the Senate," the former Fitzgerald staffer said. "Every time he wanted to sponsor a bill, he couldn't get much cooperation."
Mr. Fitzgerald clashed with House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, threatening to filibuster a bill that would have poured federal funds into the Lincoln Library in Springfield, Ill., and the expansion of Chicago's O'Hare International Airport.
"Denny and Peter have not been the best of friends," the former staffer said. "There's a lot of bad blood between those two."
The White House couldn't always count on the support of Mr. Fitzgerald on key issues. While Mr. Fitzgerald voted to support Mr. Bush's economic-growth package, he defied the White House on the narrowly decided issue of drilling for oil in a part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

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