Sunday, March 12, 2006

Dogfight Erupts Between Leading Contenders In 8th District

Campaign 2006: Six candidates in GOP primary

Ralph Zahorik
The News-Sun

In the final weeks of the race to elect a Republicans to face Democratic Congresswoman Melissa Bean and, perhaps, independent Bill Scheurer next fall, two leading contenders, David McSweeney and Kathy Salvi have gotten embroiled in dogfight.

The four other candidates, Robert Churchill, Aaron Lincoln, Kenneth Arnold and James Mitchell, have stayed out of the fray. The fuss could benefit them if voters are turned off by the unpleasantness and look for alternatives.

The dispute, described below, drew the attention of the Ronald Reagan Foundation in California.

All six candidates, with some exceptions, have similar conservative views on major issues. All say they are anti-abortion, support tax cuts, support President George Bush and the war in Iraq and want a strong national defense.

Forums and debates have sometimes focused on who is most conservative.

Each candidate has been stressing his or her credentials as the candidate best able to take back the 8th District House seat Bean wrested from Republican Phil Crane two years ago.

Republicans and Democrats will pour big money and resources into the 8th District after the primary. Bean defeated Crane two years ago 52-48 percent but the 8th District went for Republican George Bush over Democrat John Kerry, 56 to 44 percent in a year when Bush all but ignored Illinois.

Two Republicans, McSweeney and Salvi, have already spent about $2 million in the primary campaign. Most of the money has been their own.

The six Republican candidates, in alphabetical order:

Kenneth Arnold, 49, of Gurnee, an employee benefit plan consultant, has laid out plans for reforming U.S. health care and retirement systems. He is the only candidate who talks about health care reform. If the U.S. health care and retirement systems aren't fixed soon, the nation faces a disaster, he has said.

Arnold, like the other candidates, is demanding stronger measures to end illegal immigration. Unlike the others, he has joined Illinois Minutemen, a controversial anti-illegal immigrant group. He differs with the other candidates on a key issue, free trade and making President Bush's tax cuts permanent. Arnold has said trade pacts approved by Congress have "decimated" U.S. manufacturing. He said he supports all but one of Bush's tax cuts: elimination of the inheritance tax.

• Robert Churchill, 59, of Lake Villa, a lawyer and veteran state legislator, is the only candidate with substantial legislative experience and he reminds voters of this fact. Churchill's family has deep roots in Lake County. One of his ancestors settled in Lake Villa Township in 1842. None of the other candidates has ever held legislative office above the county level. "I can go to Washington and hit the ground running," he says.

Aaron Lincoln, 40, of Wauconda, seeking his first elected public office, says he is the only candidate with "hands-on experience handling federal issues." Lincoln was a federal attorney with the Department of Defense for 10 years and was a captain in the Army Judge Advocate General Corps. "I'm a pro-life, pro-gun, fiscal conservative," he said. "I understand how government works ... I can get things done."

David McSweeney, 40, of Barrington Township, is a wealthy investment banker who retired last year to run for office, He ran for Congress against Phil Crane in the 1998 GOP primary. Early on, McSweeney won support and endorsements from scores of leading Republicans including former U.S. Senator Peter Fitzgerald and Mike Ditka. McSweeney is stressing his business and financial expertise. He has focused on three issues: lower taxes, less spending and a strong national defense.

James Mitchell Jr., 61, of Lindenhurst, is a water plant operator in Highland Park and a former Lake County Board member, He and Lincoln are the only military veterans in the race. Mitchell is the only candidate urging the elimination of income taxes and a revival of a new kind of draft for public service and the military. Like Arnold, Mitchell doesn't like trade pacts approved over the past decade. Mitchell is refusing campaign contributions. He says he wants supporters to spend their money on care packages for American service personnel in Iraq.

Kathy Salvi, 46, of Fremont Township, a lawyer and the wife of former state legislator Al Salvi, has called herself a "rock solid Republican" in ads and public appearances, noting her unswerving support for incumbent GOP candidates, including Crane when McSweeney ran against the congressman. She calls herself "a tax fighter, a fiscal conservative and a defender of the family." Salvi is the only woman in the race and supporters say that gives her an edge.

Her campaign got a boost this week with an endorsement from former Congressman Phil Crane.

The 8th District Republican primary is the most costly in Illinois. The leading candidates, to date, appear to be those spending the most money.

A poll recently conducted for Kathy Salvi (the poll's accuracy is questioned by her opponents) showed her leading with 29 percent. McSweeney and Churchill trailed with 19 and 17 percent.

McSweeeney is polling, too, but he hasn't released his poll results.

McSweeney has been the top spender, by far. Through Dec. 31, he reported expenses of $949,815. Salvi and Churchill followed with $188,062 and $37,047, respectively. Salvi announced recently that she will have raised $1 million this month, counting a $500,000 loan to herself.

The McSweeney-Salvi slugfest erupted last month after McSweeney appeared on Al Salvi's radio talk show in Waukegan. McSweeney is anti-abortion now but he was pro-choice in 1998 when he ran against Crane, Salvi asserted. McSweeney denied it. Published statements from that campaign, with one notable exception cited by Salvi, appeared to support McSweeney.

Later, Al Salvi called McSweeney "weasely," said he "made an ass of himself" on radio and said the candidate was "a nut or desperate."

McSweeney fired back, saying voters will elect her husband if they elect Kathy Salvi.

Over the next week, McSweeney aired radio ads and mailed fliers noting Kathy Salvi's position on tort or lawsuit reform was different from his. Kathy Salvi supports tort reform but has indicated she opposes caps on awards for non-economic (pain and suffering) damages. McSweeney wants non-economic damages limited to $250,000.

In response, to McSweeney's ads, Salvi mailed a flier ripping McSweeney for violating Ronald Reagan's so-called "11th Commandment" forbidding Republicans to attack each other in primary campaigns. The mailer was denounced by the Ronald Reagan Foundation in California because it used photos of Ronald Reagan and suggested the late president would have supported Salvi over McSweeney.

McSweeney started the brawl, according to Al Salvi, because McSweeney knew Kathy Salvi's campaign was surging while his own was "in meltdown."

The other candidates have stayed out of the fray. Some have said the nasty dispute will turn voters away from McSweeney and Salvi to them.

"I'm working. I have two jobs, one of which keeps me 250 miles away in Springfield," Churchill said. "I'm not going to get involved in their spats. I run a positive campaign."

"It shows their level of maturity and type of politics they want to play," Lincoln said. "I think I'm the dark horse. People are fed up with multi-millionaires and professional politicians ... I'm not into spending as much as you can to prove your a fiscal conservative. I'm offering an alternative to those kinds of shenanigans. They're being advised by consultants and handlers and, frankly, it shows."