Durbin’s dominance doesn’t deter Illinois GOP Senate candidates

Five candidates are running for a shot against longtime Democratic Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin.

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U.S. Senate Republican Candidates, from left, Tom Tarter, Mark Curran Jr., Peggy Hubbard, and Robert Marshall met with the Sun-Times Editorial Board on Thursday.

Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Among the field vying for Illinois’ Republican nomination for U.S. senator, there are more candidates with experience practicing medicine than there are with holding office.

Most don’t have anything approaching the hefty cash on hand one might expect from an effective campaign for a federal seat. Few carry any name recognition outside their local communities.

And — pitted against four-term incumbent Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin in deep blue Illinois as he enters his fifth decade in Washington — most political observers would easily describe any of their bids as a long shot if they advance to the general election in November.

But five candidates are fighting for just that in next month’s GOP primary. Four appeared before the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board Thursday afternoon, arguing the state needs a new face in the Senate — and a Republican one at that, even though three of them have previously identified as Democrats.

Former Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran is the only one with prior experience in public office.He was first elected sheriff in 2006 as a Democrat, but switched to the Republican Party two years later. Curran is perhaps best known for spending a week in his own jail in 2008 to put a spotlight on the need for “moral rehabilitation” inside state correctional institutions.In 2018, he was ousted by a Democratic challenger, losing by just 137 votes out of about 245,000.

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Mark Curran Jr., Republican U.S. Senate candidate.

Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Eventually giving up on a recount effort, Curran said Illinois House Republican Leader Jim Durkin recognized he’d be a shoo-in for a GOP state representative seat, but the former sheriff set his sights higher.

“Democrats cross over for me in big numbers,” Curran, the son of a labor lawyer close to former Democratic Illinois Gov. Dan Walker, told Editorial Board members. “I believe in the Republican platform in terms of life and what have you, but I’m not some partisan guy. I think that the Republican Party needs leadership. I see a void, and it’s something I can do.”

Springfield urologist Tom Tarter said his political outsider status would give him similar crossover appeal and the leeway to “touch that dangerous third rail” of overhauling the Social Security system, even if it means flattening benefit rates or raising taxes “a little” as a last resort.

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Tom Tarter.

Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

But Tarter said it was his “alarm” at the prospect of Democrats in Congress pushing for a single-payer health care system that drew him into the race. And as a parent of three sons adopted from Russia, he’s also calling for reforms to the immigration system, specifically ending caps and lottery systems while re-evaluating the number of visas issued.

“We need more immigration, not less, especially with our declining birth rate,” Tarter said.

Peggy Hubbard, a retired IRS analyst from Belleville, was more pointed in her criticism of Durbin, claiming his hometown of East St. Louis “looks like Fallujah” while other Downstate regions have been left “in shambles” under the sitting senator’s watch.

“Dick Durbin has long forgotten about us. We are no longer significant to Dick Durbin. He doesn’t care,” she said.

Hubbard said she was a Democrat until a white police officer shot and killed an African American in Ferguson, Mo., and President Barack Obama “threw law enforcement under the bus.” She said her husband is a police officer who helped train Darren Wilson, the officer who shot Michael Brown in the suburb of St. Louis in 2014.

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Peggy Hubbard (left) and Robert Marshall.

Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

One possible way to focus more resources on parts of the state outside Chicago? Divide Illinois into three new states, Burr Ridge physician Robert Marshall offered up. The perennial candidate, who most recently ran for the Democratic nomination for governor in 2018, has floated his three-state solution for years, but he says social issues are the focus of his latest run, including banning late-term abortions and legalizing recreational marijuana nationwide.

Glenview tech engineer Casey Chlebek did not show up for the Editorial Board interview. In a previously submitted candidates’ questionnaire, he said his priority was securing tech and industrial jobs — and, as a native of Poland, he claimed he “can educate people about the perilous outcome of the socialist policies.“

The primary election takes place March 17.

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