- The Washington Times - Monday, March 15, 2004

One of the candidates admits he used cocaine in college. Another is accused of spousal abuse.

The seven Democrats and eight Republicans competing today in Illinois’ primary for an open U.S. Senate seat have turned the race into a gossipy, scandal-tinged affair in what is a must-win for national Democrats.

“But this is Illinois, Chicago politics,” said Mason-Dixon Polling and Research pollster Brad Coker. “Besides, I think voters are immune to this stuff. [Bill] Clinton set the bar pretty high.”

The drug flap began last week when local reporters noticed the leading Democrat, state Sen. Barrack Obama, noted in his 1995 autobiography, “Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance,” that he had “primarily smoked pot” in high school and occasionally had used cocaine in college.

That revelation prompted Democratic candidate Gery Chico, a one-time Chicago school board president, to announce that he had smoked marijuana when he was in college. Another candidate, Democratic fund-raiser Blair Hull, then came forth to declare that 20 years ago he had used cocaine and smoked marijuana.

“We’re always fortunate enough to have spirited, entertaining and interesting elections here,” said Jason Gerwig, a spokesman for the Illinois Republican Party.

Mr. Obama is leading the Democrats with 37 percent, according to the most recent poll conducted by Mason-Dixon. He is trailed by Illinois Comptroller Dan Hynes, with 18 percent, and Mr. Hull, a former securities trader reported to be worth nearly $450 million, with 16 percent.

Retired investment banker Jack Ryan leads the Republicans with 45 percent, trailed by businessman Andy McKenna at 12 percent.

“Everything seems to be pointing to Obama,” Mr. Coker said. “Ryan also looks good. I don’t think it is going to be close.”

He noted that Mr. Obama has done a good job at appealing to white suburban voters in the Chicago metropolitan area, a Democratic haven.

The retiring incumbent, Peter G. Fitzgerald, a Republican, unseated Democrat Carol Moseley Braun in 1998. Mr. Fitzgerald is one of three Republicans and five Democrats to announce their retirements, setting up battles in several states as Republicans try to maintain their two-seat control of the Senate.

The drug revelations were preceded by stories of domestic strife, again started by the local press, which reported that Mr. Hull was accused by his wife of hitting her in the shin during an argument, according to a 1998 police report. The report also is said to have described Mr. Hull as a violent man who one time threatened to kill his wife.

Mr. Hull downplayed the accusations as a way for his estranged wife to get more money in a divorce settlement.

Mr. Ryan subsequently released his own divorce documents, minus pages that Mr. Ryan said would affect his 9-year-old son.

Mr. Ryan has weighed in with endorsements from former Education Secretary William J. Bennett and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Jack Kemp.

Among Mr. Obama’s backers are Democratic U.S. Reps. Jesse L. Jackson Jr., Jan Schakowsky and Danny K. Davis, all from Illinois, Rep. John Conyers Jr. from Michigan and former U.S. Sen. Bill Bradley of New Jersey.

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