CHICAGO — CHICAGO - Maryland conservative Alan Keyes, a former Republican presidential contender and talk-show host, has agreed to accept the nomination as the Illinois GOP nominee for the U.S. Senate and plans a public rollout for his campaign Sunday, Republican sources said yesterday.
"He [Keyes] indicated he wanted to come back on his own terms, bring some of his supporters with him and didn't want to have to walk out the door [Wednesday night] bombarded with questions about everything," said a member of the Illinois Republican State Central Committee. "He just wanted a few days to organize things."
Bill Pascoe, a longtime friend of Keyes volunteering as his spokesman, said he could not confirm that Keyes, 53, had accepted the nomination, adding, "He thinks he owes it to them to take the time to deliberate."
Ideological rifts have come to a head between conservatives and moderates in an Illinois Republican Party battered by scandal and struggling to find its vision. That it took nearly six weeks to pick someone to replace March primary winner Jack Ryan on the Nov. 2 ballot - and the machinations the GOP hierarchy went through to come up with Keyes - points to a sharply divided political organization, some Republicans say.
On Tuesday, when Republicans narrowed the choice to Keyes and former Bush deputy drug czar Andrea Grubb Barthwell, who is more moderate, sources said the GOP state central committee meeting turned into a debate over competing ideologies and which candidate could energize turnout in November.
Conservatives, who have chafed under decades of moderate leadership of the state Republican Party, view the implosion caused by the scandal surrounding former Gov. George Ryan's tenure in public office and Jack Ryan's withdrawal from the Senate race as an opportunity to seize control of the GOP leadership.
Illinois Sen. Peter Fitzgerald embraced Keyes as the nominee yesterday and suggested that the fact he is from Maryland might help the GOP.
"The party is unfortunately very divided. There were hard feelings when party pooh-bahs forced Jack Ryan off the ticket," he said yesterday. "Maybe it's a good idea for us to have someone from out of state who doesn't have a history of the intramural party battles in Illinois, which are really kind of debilitating."
Keyes will have to establish residency in Illinois by Election Day, according to federal law.
But by offering Keyes the Senate nomination, the Republican State Central Committee has moved past the Ryan-inspired troubles and openly given conservatives the lead role they have long sought in the coming general election.
While state Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka, a social moderate, acknowledged the need of Republicans to field a candidate to challenge Democratic nominee, state Sen. Barack Obama of Chicago, she questions whether Keyes, with his firebrand style of conservatism, can build upon efforts to make the state GOP inclusive.
"It will be a challenge for Keyes. While he's energizing the right wing, he has to make sure he also has an appeal to moderates like myself and to independent voters," Topinka said.
The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.