- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 17, 2004

CHICAGO (AP) — State Sen. Barack Obama, a former civil rights lawyer seeking to become only the fifth black U.S. senator, easily won the Democratic primary yesterday, setting up a high-stakes fall race with Republican Jack Ryan.

Mr. Obama, 42, rolled up big margins in both Chicago and its Cook County suburbs, trouncing his nearest rival, state Comptroller Dan Hynes, who was pinning his hopes on help from his father and other powerful city ward leaders.

With 79 percent of precincts reporting, Mr. Obama, a Harvard-trained lawyer whose father was a government official in Kenya, had 562,495 votes, or 55 percent, to 225,834 votes, or 22 percent, for Mr. Hynes.

Mr. Ryan, a millionaire investment banker-turned-teacher, defeated seven other candidates to capture the Republican nomination. Mr. Ryan had 156,953 votes, or 36 percent, to 103,125 votes, or 23 percent, for his closest rival, dairy owner Jim Oberweis. State Sen. Steve Rauchenberger was in third place with 20 percent.

The primary had been marked by big spending — seven of the 15 candidates were millionaires — and dominated in its closing weeks by talk of drug use and divorce scandals.

Mr. Ryan was the Republican front-runner in polls, but came under pressure from party leaders and rivals to unseal records of his divorce from “Star Trek: Voyager” and “Boston Public” actress Jeri Ryan.

The nominees will compete in November to fill the seat of retiring Sen. Peter G. Fitzgerald, a Republican. National party leaders view the Illinois election as a key race in determining control the Senate, where Republicans hold a 51-48 edge, with one Democrat-leaning independent.

The candidates largely tried to focus on such issues as health care and immigration, but grumbled that their message was having a hard time getting through.

“If you didn’t have a glitzy sex life and you weren’t using drugs, you couldn’t get covered,” complained Democratic candidate Maria Pappas, the Cook County treasurer. “It’s overshadowed everything.”

In another race of note, former death-row inmate Aaron Patterson was easily defeated in a legislative race by an incumbent state representative in Chicago.

Mr. Patterson spent 17 years in prison before he was pardoned in January 2003 as part of Gov. George Ryan’s historic clearing of death row.

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