Oberweis pushing for debates with Durbin

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WASHINGTON — GOP Senate nominee Jim Oberweis is trying to pressure Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., to participate in seven televised debates before November — as his campaign is focusing on African-Americans on the South Side of Chicago, an untraditional place to seek Republican votes.

Oberweis spokesman Dan Curry said Oberweis “has been on the South Side probably two dozen times in the last two months. He is making an unprecedented outreach to the South Side Chicago as a Republican candidate” as he tries to help crime prevention programs.

Oberweis is working closely with the Rev. Corey Brooks Sr. of the New Beginnings Church of Chicago, 6620 S. King Drive, who endorsed him last May. On Tuesday night, Brooks was co-host of an Oberweis fundraiser on the South Side featuring former Chicago Bears star Dan Hampton. The price for that event ranged from $175 to $2,600.

On Wednesday, the underdog Oberweis campaign released emails about debate negotiations between Tom Mannix, Oberweis’ campaign manager, and Anna Valencia, who is running Durbin’s campaign.

The Oberweis team is focused on scoring a debate with Durbin on WTTW-Channel 11, which has done these events for state, local and federal candidates for years from their studios at 5400 N. St. Louis.

“We will let the organizers of WTTW’s Chicago Tonight debate and editors from several downstate newspapers/media partners know that Sen. Durbin has deemed their prospective events as unworthy of his participation,” Mannix wrote.

The Oberweis press release containing the emails carried the headline, “Arrogant Durbin agrees to only one televised debate.”

In her reply, Valencia nixed the idea Oberweis floated for the two to appear at events hosted by a conservative and liberal organization.

“Our campaign is not interested in putting on debates for purely theatrical purposes. Instead, we believe that these debates should create added value for those who take the time to listen to them,” she wrote.

Valencia did propose four joint appearances: on public radio at a location outside of the Chicago area; at ABC and Univision, hosted by the League of Women Voters; at the Chicago Tribune, where the editorial board hosts rivals at the same endorsement interview; and an event that took place on Wednesday, a forum sponsored by the Illinois Farm Bureau in Bloomington. Gov. Pat Quinn and GOP gubernatorial nominee Bruce Rauner also appeared.

The Oberweis team turned up the heat on Durbin on a day when the two Senate rivals both spoke at the Illinois Farm Bureau forum. That forum was not a debate because the candidates did not appear together.

Durbin campaign spokesman Ron Holmes said it was premature to conclude that Durbin will agree to only one televised debate.

The emails between managers were just opening bids to make a deal, Holmes said.

“There is nothing we agreed to or disagreed to,” Holmes said. “. . . We were expecting a back-and-forth to occur between the two campaigns,” while the Obeweis campaign took the matter to the press.

The farm bureau event excepted, it’s hard to find out where Oberweis is on the stump any day, because the campaign as a matter of strategy does not offer up a schedule of campaign events.

Getting debates is important to Oberweis because earning free media coverage is difficult and frustrating. Part of the reason it’s hard to give Oberweis routine campaign coverage because he is difficult to find. Durbin is active and accessible.

Oberweis was in DuPage and Lake counties on Saturday; Dundee on Sunday; Galesburg and Naperville on Monday.

“He’s doing like four events a day,” Curry said. Curry suggested checking out Oberweis social media accounts to find out where he is. But that shows mainly what’s already happened. And for many days in August, even Twitter didn’t have much on Oberweis’ whereabouts.

Curry said not releasing a daily schedule in advance is “a tactical decision.”

Durbin routinely puts out information about his official government and political activities.

“Hurray,” said Curry. “He sends out more schedules than we do.”

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