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State Senate: State rep aims to oust incumbent in 24th District



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Updated: March 21, 2012 8:02AM

It’s not often that in bedrock Republican DuPage County a political contest could boil down to which GOP candidate has the closer ties to President Barack Obama.

Yet, that’s an issue in the 24th Senate District campaign that pits two incumbents — state Sen. Kirk Dillard (R-Hinsdale) and state Rep. Chris Nybo (R-Elmhurst) — in a race to represent west-central DuPage in Springfield.

Dillard, facing his first legislative primary since 1994, has drawn flak from within his party since filming a campaign commercial touting Obama’s work on an ethics bill they co-authored. The ad aired when Obama was in a pitched battle with Hillary Clinton to win the 2008 Iowa Caucus and put Dillard on the defensive in his razor-thin gubernatorial primary loss two years later.

Nybo, as a 22-year-old law student, took a voting-rights class from Obama when he taught at the University of Chicago Law School and walked precincts for Obama in his failed 2000 congressional bid to unseat U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) — a gesture Nybo said was rooted “in learning about what a campaign entailed.”

“Kirk Dillard was a recognized leader of the Republican Party, and here he is helping a Democrat become president. Sen. Dillard helped Sen. Obama become President Obama, and that’s a fact,” Nybo said.

“Given how the economy has played out, many people are disappointed with the direction the country has gone. I think a lot of people blame Kirk Dillard for helping put us in this situation,” Nybo said.

Dillard, a lawyer who has been in the state Senate since 1993, countered that Nybo is a “protege” of Obama’s. Further, it is “astonishing” that Nybo would focus on the 2008 commercial and its “15 nice words about the president on an ethics bill limited by agreement to only a Democratic primary,” the senator said.

“I never walked precincts for Barack Obama like Chris Nybo did,” Dillard said.

Strip away the sniping about ties to Obama, and there are no gaping philosophical differences between the two candidates.

Both support a 2014 rollback of the income-tax increase, and each supports constitutionally questionable legislation that would roll back pension benefits for existing state workers.

They also both backed a Democratic-crafted workers compensation package that became law despite lacking universal support in the state’s business community. Nybo’s caucus, holding out for more business concessions, voted en masse against the measure. Nybo was the only House Republican “yes” vote, rankling his GOP colleagues.

“He broke with his own caucus and sided with [House Speaker Michael] Madigan and the trial lawyers on what Chris Nybo’s own leader just recently called a watered-down version of a workers comp bill,” Dillard said.

Nybo defended that vote as a pro-jobs stance that demonstrated he wasn’t afraid to go toe-to-toe with the establishment, even within his own party: “I didn’t go to Springfield to support leadership.”

One issue where they differ is gambling expansion. Dillard supports allowing a Chicago casino. Nybo does not.

Besides pushing two different sets of major ethics bills, Dillard is regarded as a skilled legislator who spearheaded Illinois’ truth-in-sentencing law, McPier work-rule changes and business-incentive legislation that targeted Boeing and Navistar.

For Dillard, the race carries added political ramifications because he hasn’t ruled out a 2014 gubernatorial run. He has to win next month’s Senate primary in order to be viable for higher office.

In 2010, Dillard lost in the GOP gubernatorial primary to state Sen. Bill Brady (R-Bloomington) by only 293 votes out of 310,861 votes cast, a losing margin of .02 percentage points.

Nybo said it’s “offensive” Dillard might be using this campaign and the Senate seat in play as a “springboard” to a gubernatorial election, but Dillard said he has “made no decisions” on his 2014 plans and is simply taking it “one election cycle at a time.”

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