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updated: 9/6/2012 5:08 AM

Mike in Charlotte: Durbin once again to pave way for Obama's speech

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  • U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin shakes hands with Jill Biden during the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Tuesday.

      U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin shakes hands with Jill Biden during the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Tuesday.
    Associated Press

  • President Barack Obama and Sen. Richard Durbin prepare to walk down the steps of Air Force One together in 2009.

      President Barack Obama and Sen. Richard Durbin prepare to walk down the steps of Air Force One together in 2009.
    Associated Press

 
 

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- On some of the biggest days of President Barack Obama's political life, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin has spoken first.

The Illinois Democrat introduced Obama before he accepted the presidential nomination at the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver.

At the 2004 convention in Boston, Durbin presented Obama before the then-state senator gave a keynote address that launched him to national prominence.

And Durbin -- one of the first people to publicly encourage Obama to run for president when he was only two years removed from the state Senate in Springfield -- is scheduled to speak at the Democratic National Convention today, before Obama accepts his nomination for re-election.

"He's had pretty good luck when I'm on the program right before him," Durbin said from Charlotte.

Yet, Durbin's more than a good-luck charm. His popularity makes him a strong standard-bearer for the president, if Illinois' Democratic delegates are any indication.

In a Daily Herald survey, about 83 percent of the delegates responding gave Durbin a grade of "A" for his work in the U.S. Senate. About 13 percent gave him a "B," and one voter each gave him a "C" and "D."

"His views fall in line with mine," said delegate Moises Garcia of West Chicago. "He's fairly liberal in terms of senators."

While Illinois Democrats focus on Obama's campaign and on winning congressional races, Durbin's future is less certain.

Durbin, who's up for re-election in 2014, said from Charlotte that he won't decide for sure whether to run until next year but that, so far, "I'm planning to run again."

After 14 years in Congress, Durbin entered the Senate in 1997 and now serves as the Democratic majority's No. 2 senator.

Durbin's potential race contrasts with his Democratic counterpart, Gov. Pat Quinn, who would also face re-election in 2014.

While Illinois Republicans seemingly lined up at their convention in Tampa last week for a chance to be declared a possible gubernatorial candidate in 2014, the chatter about a Republican candidate to challenge Durbin was far quieter, and perhaps nonexistent.

That could partly be because of Durbin's dominance in 2008, when Obama was elected. Durbin won nearly 68 percent of the Illinois vote against Republican Steve Sauerberg of Willowbrook. Even Obama himself mustered less -- 62 percent while running for president in his home state.

"He's been there a long time and is well-entrenched," said Illinois Republican Party Chairman Pat Brady of St. Charles. "He's a tough candidate."

Brady said Durbin should face much of the same criticism the GOP heaps on the president. Still, Brady called it an "honor" for Durbin to be speaking at the convention a third time before Obama.

Durbin's unwavering support of Obama is exactly what could draw the ire of Republicans as they try to wage a campaign this year against the president's many controversial accomplishments -- from the auto industry bailout to health care reform and the federal stimulus plan.

So if support for Obama weakens in Illinois, Durbin might feel some of the heat, too.

But this year, Durbin has gained praise from at least some Republicans for his willingness to help U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk and his staff after Kirk suffered a stroke in January, from which he still is recovering.

Durbin spoke to Kirk's staff directly and offered to help the Highland Park Republican move legislation.

Durbin and Kirk also are working together on replacing Patrick Fitzgerald, the former U.S. attorney based in Chicago.

Durbin's relationship with Obama is clearly a close one, said delegate Mark Guethle of North Aurora. After all, someone doesn't make the decision to run for president lightly.

"I think Durbin helped in that decision," Guethle said.

Whether Durbin makes his own decision to run again could hinge on some personal factors. He was devastated when his 40-year-old daughter, Chris, died in 2008 only days before he was re-elected.

In Denver in 2008, Durbin introduced Obama by focusing in part on the campaign's message of trying to reach new voters.

"We have gathered here this week to dedicate ourselves to that new day," Durbin said.

Today in Charlotte, it's unclear whether Durbin will introduce Obama or whether his speech will come earlier in the evening.

But 12 years after Durbin first introduced Obama to the nation, he'll precede the president once again.

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