Political unknown wants Durbin's job in U.S. Senate

Ryan Keith

Illinois’ U.S. Senate race this fall is the quintessential David vs. Goliath political matchup: the unknown newcomer against the popular incumbent.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, a Springfield Democrat who has served for 12 years and sits at the top of congressional leadership, wants to keep Illinois’ place at the bargaining table on key national policies.

“I’ve tried to pay special attention to downstate and central Illinois in Washington,” Durbin said.

Republican Steve Sauerberg, a doctor from the Chicago suburbs running for his first public office, says it’s time to move away from leadership he says Durbin and others in Congress have squandered.

“Sen. Durbin doesn’t represent the values of the people of Illinois anymore, and I thought that was wrong,” Sauerberg said in an interview last week. “It’s politics as usual in our country, and I think most of us are a little disgusted with it.”

Both candidates center their pitch to voters these days on the major economic challenge facing the nation.

Durbin supported the $700 billion financial bailout Congress approved to avoid what some predicted would be certain economic disaster. But the stock market has plummeted despite the effort at reassurance, and Durbin admits stepping in to save credit giants isn’t a foolproof solution.

“Doing nothing was not an option. We at least have to try to stop the economy from declining further. If this does not work, we have to do more. There’s too much at stake,” Durbin said in an interview last week.

Durbin says he wants Congress to do more to help people facing foreclosures from mortgages gone bad.

That’s one reason why he wants a third term in the Senate, where as the second-ranking Democrat he has a key say in policy priorities and decisions. He also touts what he can do for Illinois if fellow home-state senator, Barack Obama, is elected president.

His opponent faces a distinct disadvantage. Sauerberg has far less money to get his message out to voters, who have never seen him on the political map before. Sauerberg acknowledges he had hoped to have stronger financial backing to make his sell job a little easier.

“We’ve done fairly well, but obviously, I dreamed of doing better,” Sauerberg said.

But Sauerberg said his conservative message and values have been well-received throughout Illinois. He points to Durbin’s support for government intervention in the financial markets as a prime example of how he differs with the longtime congressman.

“Sen. Durbin is going to find a way to make the government bigger, and I am desperately trying to find a way to make the government smaller,” Sauerberg said.

Sauerberg said he would have voted down the Wall Street bailout and instead looked to promote free-market reforms, such as putting a moratorium on capital-gains taxes and giving corporations a tax cut to promote job growth and stimulate the sagging economy.

The two also differ on the hotly debated war in Iraq.

Durbin says he opposed the war from the beginning and wants to pull troops out soon, shifting focus on Afghanistan in the war on terror.

“It’s time for Iraqis to stand up and defend their own country. Until they know that we are serious about leaving, I’m afraid they won’t face that responsibility,” Durbin said.

Sauerberg said America is making progress in Iraq but shouldn’t leave prematurely and risk ruining what has been accomplished.

“We need to finish up what we’re doing and not let it backslide, and then we need to move onto the next steps,” Sauerberg said.

Sauerberg blasts Durbin as being highly partisan and liberal, not standing up for voters back home with more moderate values.

“I don’t know what he expects people to think when he votes like this, but he is way out of line with the values of the people of Illinois,” Sauerberg said.

Durbin responds he’ll take such criticism for opposing the Bush administration’s economic and foreign policy gaffes.

“I truly disagree with President Bush’s positions, and Dr. Sauerberg can defend them if he wishes to,” Durbin said.

Ryan Keith can be reached at (217) 788-1518.


ENERGY — Both U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin and Republican challenger Steve Sauerberg say developing alternative energy resources is a key part of the nation’s future.

Sauerberg supports drilling for oil in Alaska and wants to seriously look at expanding nuclear power. He expects vehicles will run off electricity in the long run, and Illinois has to take advantage of leadership opportunities in energy development.

Durbin wants to explore new sources of oil here and abroad, force oil companies to give up unused land for oil development and utilize renewable resources such as ethanol, solar and wind power. He also wants to promote more development of fuel-efficient vehicles.

HEALTH CARE — Sauerberg wants to create a new standard insurance program provided to all citizens, with tax credits and vouchers available to make coverage more affordable. He says simplifying coverage will reduce costs and administrative headaches now seen in federal programs Medicaid and Medicare and let the market make insurance rates competitive.

Durbin wants to further expand health insurance programs to make coverage more affordable for families and small businesses. He calls Sauerberg’s plan risky for families who can barely afford coverage now.

TAXES — Durbin supports friend and presidential candidate Barack Obama’s plan to end tax cuts for the wealthy that were backed by the Bush administration and give tax breaks to working and middle-income families.

Sauerberg says he wants to make government smaller and let people keep more of their cash. He wants to preserve Bush’s tax cuts and would like to see taxes cut across-the-board even further. He says ending tax breaks for corporations only will kill jobs and stifle the economy.

U.S. Senate bio boxes

Dick Durbin

Age: 63

Party: Democrat

Family: Married to Loretta, three children

Occupation: U.S. senator

Relevant experience: U.S. House member, 1983 to 1997; U.S. senator, 1997 to present.

Education: Bachelor’s and law degrees

Quote: “When I’m at the table, Illinois is at the table, and I’m doing my best to make sure that our interests are represented.”

Steve Sauerberg

Age: 55

Party: Republican

Family: Wife Nancy, two children

Occupation: Doctor

Relevant experience: Never ran for public office before. Practiced medicine in Chicago’s western suburbs for 25 years.

Education: Bachelor’s and medical degrees

Quote: “Government, I think, should make our lives simpler and better. Life is hard, and why are we making it harder?”