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posted: 3/22/2012 5:05 PM

After 10 years, Oberweis may be nearing victory

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  • Republican businessman Jim Oberweis, the loser in five previous elections, won the Republican nomination for the 25th state Senate District seat. He will face Democrat Corinne Pierog of St. Charles in the November general election.

      Republican businessman Jim Oberweis, the loser in five previous elections, won the Republican nomination for the 25th state Senate District seat. He will face Democrat Corinne Pierog of St. Charles in the November general election.
    Associated Press file photo

  • Corinne Pierog

      Corinne Pierog

Associated Press

Dairy industry magnate Jim Oberweis didn't give up after he lost his first election. Or his second. Or even his third. Finally, on his sixth run for public office, he may be on the verge of victory.

Oberweis won the GOP nomination for a state Senate seat in Tuesday's primary and has a strong chance of winning the general election because the 25th District is heavily Republican.

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The office is far from the high-profile posts like governor and U.S. senator that Oberweis sought years ago, but Oberweis expressed confidence about his chance to serve in the General Assembly.

His quest for office has been expensive. Oberweis has pumped millions of dollars into his campaigns over the past decade. Just in 2008 he loaned more than $3.5 million to his campaigns for a seat in Congress.

The reason he kept running?

"People asked me to," he said. "I still have four of my children and 13 of my grandchildren living in Illinois, and I'm very concerned about the future of this state."

Oberweis made a fortune running the dairy and ice cream company that bears his family name. He also runs an investment firm and mutual fund.

Ten years ago, Oberweis decided to get into politics. He started at the top by running for the Senate but lost the Republican primaries in 2002 and 2004. His 2004 campaign featured ads that showed him in a helicopter over Chicago's Soldier Field, criticizing illegal immigration and claiming the flow of illegal immigrants could fill the stadium every week.

Even when 2004 nominee Jack Ryan dropped out of the race, party leaders did not turn to Oberweis, who had placed second. Instead, they recruited out-of-stater Alan Keyes to run against -- and get crushed by -- then-state legislator Barack Obama.

Oberweis ran for governor two years later. During that primary, he proposed drawing straws to decide who should drop out so a single conservative could challenge the party's moderate frontrunner. Oberweis suggested he get 10 straws and his opponents get one each. They did not agree.

He lost that primary but won in 2008 when he ran in special and general primaries for a seat in Congress, losing to Democrat Bill Foster both times. In 2010 he finally won an election for a seat on the Illinois Republican Party's central committee.

Joe Wiegand, campaign manager for Oberweis in 2006 and now a professional Theodore Roosevelt impersonator, says Oberweis showed the persistence that is highly valuable in the business sector.

"There was certainly a sense that this is a man who doesn't quit, especially when facing obstacles and even defeat," Wiegand said. "I had a sense Jim will continue on."

One of his opponents in Tuesday's primary, attorney Rick Slocum of Sugar Grove, said Oberweis' name identification from previous campaigns helped him, especially in a low-turnout race. Slocum finished third in the primary but is supporting Oberweis now and predicts a win this fall.

Oberweis will face Democratic Corinne Pierog, a St. Charles school board member, who is campaigning on the message that she better understands the problems of average voters.

But Oberweis counters that he can do more to help businesses grow. He proposes cutting their costs by reducing workers' compensation and tax rates.

"I believe that the voters in this district are interested in creating a positive business environment," he said.

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