While the primary election five weeks away, each Republican candidate for U.S. Senate is seeking to position himself as the one who could unseat Democratic incumbent Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin in November.
During interviews with the Daily Herald editorial board, state Sen. Jim Oberweis and political newcomer Doug Truax each glossed over how he'll get past the March 18 primary to square off against Durbin.
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Truax believes Oberweis' election record will hinder the dairy magnate's chances among Republican voters.
"I just see this as an electability thing," Truax said. "Jim is a conservative, but you lose five races in 11 years, you narrow down the number of people who are going to vote for you."
Oberweis cited polling that shows he has support among younger voters and independents as well as a "75 percent statewide name recognition." He suggested Truax, who has never held or run for office, would be better suited for Springfield than Congress.
"Unfortunately, this is a very different election," Oberweis said. "(Durbin) has got $4 million ready to blast whoever comes. We will have the necessary funding. I'm still the underdog, though, but America loves an underdog."
There is no Democratic challenge to Durbin's candidacy.
The 67-year-old Oberweis of Sugar Grove has loaned his campaign $500,000 for the primary battle and has been spending it to bolster his presence among downstate GOP voters. Truax has raised about $107,000 since he announced his candidacy. The 43-year-old Downers Grove businessman has spent much of the campaign so far solidifying suburban GOP support.
Truax has picked up endorsements from Republican township organizations in Lake County and northern Cook County, but Oberweis has Republican endorsements in some heavily populated areas like Schaumburg and Wheeling townships.
Truax said he's won 11 of 13 straw polls at various suburban Republican functions so far, a claim that Oberweis disputes.
"That's just totally false," Oberweis said. "I've been endorsed by far more elected officials than he knows or has met in his life."
Truax said Oberweis has begun "backing out of debates."
"If he's going to hide now, that seems like it's his new tactic," Truax said.
The two GOP candidates aren't far apart on a lot of issues. They both believe Durbin is susceptible to voters who don't agree with his advocacy of the new federal health care law. Where they do differ is in foreign policy.
Truax, a West Point graduate and retired Army veteran, said he believes the United States military should have acted against Syria and says sanctions against Iran aren't enough. He said he believes in "peace through strength."
"If you don't lead, you're tending toward chaos and weak leadership from the lone superpower in the world leads us closer to conflict," Truax said. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad "has gotten away with using chemical weapons on his own people. You have to push other countries if they're acting that way toward their own citizens."
However, Oberweis had no complaints with President Barack Obama's approach to the current upheaval in the Middle East.
"I know Republicans are supposed to be hawks and Democrats are supposed to be doves," Oberweis said, "but I tell you I think our country is pretty tired of conflicts. People are tired of policing the world. In that, I don't have very much criticism of our president."
Oberweis said his stint in Springfield has taught him how to reach across the aisle and he would use those skills to make sure work in Congress was done on a bipartisan basis.
"My focus is trying to help the country," Oberweis said.
Truax said his lack of political experience is a positive for his campaign, even though he has no track record to show voters.
"My type of candidacy is what people are looking for," he said, referring to a senator from Palatine who served 1999-2005. "I'll go do what I said I was going to do. Peter Fitzgerald, that's the kind of senator I'll be."