Durbin-Oberweis race: Helicopters or liberal extremism?

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Jim Oberweis’ notorious illegal immigration ad ran a decade ago, but mention his name in any Hispanic community in the city, and it still prompts this response: “Helicopter.”

At least, that’s how the Democrat he is trying to unseat sees it.

“They remember his ad — hovering over Soldier Field — because it was an effort to divide Chicago and Illinois,” U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin said, the day after the state primary.

Oberweis’ old campaign ad featured him riding in a helicopter over Soldier Field and warning of 10,000 illegal immigrants entering the United States daily: “Enough to fill Soldier Field every single week.”

Oberweis admits the controversial ad was “a mistake,” but argues the race is about Durbin and his long tenure in Washington, dubbing him a out-of-touch “extreme left wing liberal.”

Both men said they were ready for the fight ahead. 

Durbin faced no primary opposition. Oberweis beat out Downers Grove businessman Doug Truax in a heated primary. 

But Republicans came together Wednesday behind Oberweis. Truax sent an email urging his supporters to back Oberweis. And GOP gubernatorial nominee Bruce Rauner  told reporters: “I am supporting our entire ticket very aggressively.”

As for the immigration commercial that continues to dog him, Oberweis told the Sun-Times:  “Let me clarify, first of all, we did a crappy job [on that commercial]. It had nothing to do sneaking over the border.” 

Oberweis said the ad focused on people entering the U.S. at legal entry points who should not have been allowed entry. 

“We didn’t do a very good job of explaining, and I accept responsibility for that. We made a mistake. However, I need to say I have a pretty good relationship with most Hispanic groups and worked hard to correct the misunderstanding.” 

Going on the offensive, he said: “Durbin has lost his Illinois roots. He has become the most extreme left wing liberal in the U.S. Senate. He does not represent the Illinois people any longer.”

Oberweis, a state senator from Sugar Grove, said he’s pushing for term limits to curtail self serving career politicians such as Durbin and railed on Durbin’s economic policies that “drive businesses and jobs out of this state and this country.” 

“It will be a difficult race,” Oberweis conceded, speaking to the Sun-Times after a Downtown radio interview. “I certainly don’t have the $20 to 25 million this race is going to take. But I believe we’ll be pretty successful at fund raising as well.”

Oberweis was responding to a question about how he’d deal with Durbin’s campaign war chest of $5 million.

Durbin appeared Wednesday alongside Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Gov. Pat Quinn at the Billy Goat Tavern downtown — a traditional post-election pitstop.

“I’m going to work hard and never take any election for granted,” said Durbin, a Springfield resident who was first elected the U.S. Senate in 1996.

Oberweis downplayed his closer-than-expected race against Truax. Oberweis won, with 56 percent of the vote. 

“Those races — whether the governor’s race, a Senate race or any of those races — tend to get closer than the polls show when you come down to the final vote,” Oberweis said.  “My race ended up with about a 13 percent margin, which is a pretty good margin. I was very pleased to see that.”

While Oberweis says Durbin doesn’t represent Illinois “values,” the incumbent said it’s wealthy candidates  such as Oberweis who are out of touch.

“These folks who think they have a better way to do things, who happen to be multimillionaires, should get out and meet a few working families,” Durbin said.

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