State Sen. Jim Oberweis, a Sugar Grove Republican and veteran of statewide campaigns in Illinois, says he's nearing the minimum number of petition signatures he needs to run for U.S. Senate.
And Oberweis said if he reaches his goal number of signatures, he'll get into his third Republican primary for Senate for good.
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"We still have some ways to go, but so far I've been very encouraged by what we've seen," Oberweis said this week.
A candidate for Senate needs 5,000 signatures to run for office, but Oberweis says that like most candidates he'll target 10,000 signatures to ensure enough are valid.
If he takes on the race for a shot to run against Democratic U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, Oberweis will return to the statewide ballot after an eight-year absence.
He would join a Republican primary race that already includes businessman and West Point graduate Doug Truax of Downers Grove, Kane County regional school board member Chad Koppie of Gilberts and Air Force veteran William Lee of Rockton.
Oberweis finished second in primaries for U.S. Senate in 2002 and 2004 and also was runner-up in the GOP primary for governor in 2006.
He said he's aware he might take some heat for making another bid.
"Oh, I'm sure I will, as did Abraham Lincoln," Oberweis said.
Losing a statewide campaign in Illinois can sometimes be a drag on a candidate's career, which is one reason a fourth statewide effort by Oberweis would be unusual.
Oberweis says he'll tell voters about his success in the dairy business. But he argues what's different this time is his 2012 election to the Illinois Senate, where he grabbed attention this year for winning approval of an increase in the rural interstate speed limit to 70 mph. He points to that success to show he got a proposal through a General Assembly controlled by Democrats.
"One of the criticisms of me in the past has always been, well, he's just a businessman and he won't be able to get along with Democrats," Oberweis said. "I've got more Democrat friends now that I've ever had before."
Any Republican faces a challenge against Durbin, who won his last campaign by a comfortable margin and has been a top ally of President Barack Obama in his home state.
But a Republican path to the U.S. Senate first would go through primary voters, who would choose just one of the contenders in the crowded race on March 18.
Oberweis has been complimentary of Truax and gave the first-time candidate advice that was counter to Oberweis' own political path.
"It makes a lot of sense to first run for the state House or the state Senate and get a little experience," Oberweis said. "And quite frankly, I didn't want to believe it 12 years ago, and I don't want to believe it now. But I believe it's true today. I've learned that over the last 10 or 12 years."
Truax says he did have that conversation but wasn't moved. He's spent months focusing on Durbin, including hammering the Democrat last week over a fundraising letter and Facebook post criticizing Republicans over an event that never happened.
"To make my decision to do this, I didn't check with anybody," Truax said.
"The Constitution's pretty clear on who can run for Senate. There's no reason I can't."
Oberweis' presence on the ticket could once again draw attention to his role this year in trying to oust former Illinois Republican Party Chairman Pat Brady of St. Charles after Brady revealed he was lobbying lawmakers to support same-sex marriage.
Oberweis says the move was about not wanting the leader of an organization lobbying against its platform. Still, the flap put Oberweis at odds with such top Republicans as U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk of Highland Park, former Illinois House Republican Leader Tom Cross of Oswego and Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka, who defended Brady.
Truax said he's been traveling the state extensively in the last few months while Oberweis is a potential latecomer to the race. Just last week, Oberweis was collecting petition signatures at the Capitol at a rally opposing same-sex marriage.
"I don't see those other guys out there," Truax said.