- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Aaron Schock is Hollywood-handsome, single and smart. He’s also ambitious.

At 19, he unseated the president of the Peoria, Ill., school board with 60 percent of the vote after a write-in campaign. He earned a bachelor’s degree in finance in just two years and then at 23 toppled a Democratic state representative to become Illinois‘ youngest lawmaker.

At 27, the second-term Republican has set his sights on Washington - and the national Republican Party is eyeing him as a rising star.

Mr. Schock is heavily favored to defeat a Democrat 30 years his senior in November to succeed retiring Republican Rep. Ray LaHood, a feat that would make him the youngest member of Congress and the first born during Ronald Reagan’s presidency.

President Bush attended a picnic-style fundraiser for Mr. Schock’s campaign and the Republican Party in July that raised $700,000. Former Rep. Dennis Hastert, the party’s longest-serving House speaker, has campaigned for him, as have Mr. LaHood and former Illinois Govs. James R. Thompson and Jim Edgar.

Mr. Schock even was asked to speak for a few minutes at the Republican National Convention.

“I think if I were the Republican Party or Republican members of Congress, I’d be sending him all over the nation doing things,” said William K. Hall, a Bradley University political science professor who was elected to the Kansas House in 1964 at age 26. “I would showcase him as the Republican of the future.”

Republican leaders are excited over Mr. Schock’s future.

“If we are going to earn back the majority, we have to offer appealing new candidates with fresh thinking grounded by tried-and-true conservative values, and Aaron Schock is the embodiment of the kind of candidates the Republican Party needs to win again,” Mr. Hastert said when he endorsed Mr. Schock in January.

A month later, Mr. Schock routed a businessman and former Peoria City Council member with 71 percent of the vote.

Mr. Schock, who grew up on a Peoria County farm with two brothers and two sisters, began working in middle school, initially helping a ticket brokerage with its computers and then starting what would be a six-year job shoveling gravel. He invested in mutual funds, plain stocks or certificates of deposit. He turned to real estate, buying a home, a duplex and, upon turning 18, some farmland.

While a high school junior, he wanted to go straight to college, but the school board insisted that he first take a fourth credit of physical education. So he returned for a semester of morning gym and marching band. Halfway through his senior year, he finally enrolled in Bradley University.

He managed to get even with the school board - or at least its president - by soundly defeating her while he was still at Bradley.

“I don’t think he even planned a big political future,” said Mr. Schock’s father, Richard F. Schock. “If he wouldn’t have gotten upset with the school board president, he’d probably be working for Caterpillar,” the farm equipment manufacturer in Peoria.

However, Aaron Schock says his political aspirations were driven by a desire to help people, sparked during visits to poverty-stricken nations with his father, a physician who was volunteering his medical services.

“Every time I would return, I would say that it feels so good to help in other countries, but also I would think, ‘I live in Peoria, Illinois, and there are people just down the hill from me who are suffering from poverty with just as many ills, if not more,’” he said.

It wasn’t long before Mr. Schock found a home in the Democrat-controlled Illinois General Assembly.

Democratic Rep. Sara Feigenholtz of Chicago said she has become “tickled by Aaron” even though he defeated her friend. She said Mr. Schock worked with her to pass a bill to fund school-based health centers despite opposition from the Republican caucus.

“I’ve always voted my conscience, and on a number of occasions, I have had to stand up to the base of my party and some of the power structure,” Mr. Schock said.

He is a self-styled conservative. He opposes abortion and campaign contribution limits and was the chief sponsor of a bill to allow concealed-handgun ownership in Illinois. However, he supported former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, who has favored abortion rights and gun control, in this year’s presidential primary.

“I don’t have a basic litmus test that if you don’t agree with me on a specific issue that I’m not going to support you,” Mr. Schock said. “Being in the Illinois Legislature, being on a local school board has taught me the importance of working with people of different philosophies and beliefs.”

With his overwhelming primary win and the high-profile support he’s received, Mr. Schock is feeling confident. Five months ago, with an initial $10,000 contribution from a Peoria physician-businesswoman, he even started his own federal leadership political action committee, the GOP Generation Y Fund, to help like-minded House candidates across the nation.

Democrats warn, however, that all the attention and confidence could backfire.

“I think he’s been a little bit presumptuous about his certainty of election, and that doesn’t wear very well in central Illinois,” said Sen. Dick Durbin, Illinois Democrat.

Mr. Schock’s opponent, 57-year-old Colleen Callahan, a veteran radio broadcaster and Peoria County businesswoman, repeatedly calls Mr. Schock “ambitious” and promises she won’t use the congressional seat as a steppingstone to higher office.

Still, there’s no doubt she faces a big challenge. The same day of Mr. Schock’s fundraiser - where 1,400 people paid $500 a ticket and some gave another $5,000 to have their picture taken with President Bush - Miss Callahan held a $15-a-ticket fish fry that she estimates generated $15,000. Meanwhile, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has not yet committed money to help her.

“He can raise money like he’s got a moneymaking machine,” Miss Callahan said. “He appears to wake up in the morning with dollar signs in his eyes.”

Mr. Schock, though, said he’s forgoing a potentially more lucrative career to pursue politics.

“With my background in finance, you can make more money and have more privacy and freedom than in the public sector,” he said. “I’m a believer if you are going to put up with the sacrifice, then it’s not worth doing much unless you do what you think is right.”

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