Durbin says challenger Oberweis’ past will come back to haunt him
BY NATASHA KORECKI Political Reporter November 26, 2013 4:40PM
U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill. File Photo
Updated: December 28, 2013 6:29AM
If Jim Oberweis wants to run for the U.S. Senate, he should be ready to deal with some long memories, says the longtime holder of the seat he’s after — U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin.
“We’ve already had people contact our office from the Hispanic community, who will never get over that ad,” the Springfield Democrat told the Sun-Times, referring to a notorious commercial Oberweis ran in a previous Senate race.
“They felt it was hateful and divisive, and they’ve called to say they’re anxious to help and to make sure that he doesn’t get elected.”
In that 2004 TV spot, Oberweis, a dairy magnate now serving in the state Senate, sits in a helicopter that’s hovering over Soldier Field.
“Illegal aliens are coming here to take American workers’ jobs, drive down wages and take advantage of government benefits such as free health care, and you pay,” Oberweis warns. “How many? 10,000 illegal aliens. Enough to fill Soldier Field every single week.”
Despite Durbin’s long tenure in the Senate, his move to engage Oberweis this early in the campaign may be a sign that Durbin is feeling the heat from the unpopular rollout of President Barack Obama’s new health care law.
It’s also a signal that Durbin is taking Oberweis, who has failed in two past U.S. Senate runs, seriously.
Durbin noted that despite his healthy campaign fund — which holds more than $4 million — he remains in the “mere mortal” category for wealth.
“Oberweis has a tradition of putting millions of dollars into the campaign,” Durbin said. “I don’t know how wealthy he is, but that gives him an edge when it comes to spending money, at will.”
In announcing his candidacy last week, the Sugar Grove Republican released a video statement in which he alludes to the immigration ad, noting he’s made mistakes in the past.
Durbin was part of a bipartisan team of U.S. senators who helped advance a historic immigration reform package this summer, which includes a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who fulfill certain requirements, including a waiting period and paying fines. The measure has so far stalled in the House.
Durbin said: “I’m anxious to know during the course of this Republican primary whether he will take the same position Mark Kirk has taken and whether he would vote for the comprehensive immigration reform bill that passed the Senate. Kirk voted for it. Oberweis, who said he’s made some mistakes and wants to start anew, the obvious question is: Would you have voted for that bill — yes or no?”
Kirk is the state’s junior Republican U.S. senator.
Durbin made the remarks one day after Oberweis filed as a Republican challenger for the U.S. Senate. Downers Grove businessman Doug Truax also filed for the GOP nomination.
Oberweis snapped back at Durbin on Tuesday.
“Mr. Durbin has been in Washington for 32 years. He’s been totally unsuccessful passing immigration reform,” Oberweis told the Sun-Times. “I think there is an opportunity to help solve that problem.”
Oberweis said he opposes amnesty. He is open to a plan that would first give additional resources for border security and that would allow a path to citizenship to children who were brought to the United States illegally and raised here.
“We all believe we ought not force a breakup or split in families,” Oberweis said. “I also believe that amnesty would be a big mistake and would result in increasing illegal immigration.”
A compromise Oberweis supports, he said, would be to allow those already here but who are lacking visas to apply for a special visa that would allow them to live here legally but not tap into government assistance and not be allowed to go to the front of the line for citizenship.
“Consequently, they would not be rewarded for breaking the law, and I think that’s a reasonable compromise,” Oberweis said.
Durbin, the Senate Majority Whip, has held his Senate seat since 1997, staving off repeated challenges as he ascended into leadership. He served in the House before that.
Oberweis, said his decision was buoyed by a recent poll that showed the two of them closer than he would have thought.
A We Ask America poll had the two within 11 percentage points, with Oberweis lagging.
“I made the decision that I will give it my very best effort. I think it will be a very difficult challenge because he’s been so entrenched,” Oberweis said. “But [Durbin] has been an architect of Obamacare and forcing it through Congress. He has promised if people want to keep their doctor their health care provider, they could.”
For his part, Durbin said if elections were held today, Democrats might be impacted by the botched rollout of the Affordable Care Act.
But in a year, he said, no one knows whether it will still be a factor.