Keyes Gets Mixed Reviews

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — From the time Illinois Republicans named former U.N. ambassador Alan Keyes as their candidate for the U.S. Senate, his detractors have stuck him with the “carpetbagger” label he affixed to Hillary Clinton when she entered the Senate race in New York.

They ask why her candidacy represented “the destruction of federalism,” as Keyes claimed at the time, if his move from Maryland to Illinois did not.

He says he's glad they asked.

“I was called into this race, and that respects the sovereignty of the people, which is one side of federalism,” Keyes explained to the Register. “What I have to show is that I have come into this state to defend the other side of federalism, the principles of our national union. And that's what I'm doing, because on the deepest issue of principles, Barack Obama has taken the most extreme position possible.”

Obama is Keyes' opponent in the race for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by retiring conservative Republican Peter Fitzgerald.

The contest is one between two black intellectuals with opposite worldviews. Obama has been called as liberal as Keyes is conservative. Both are Harvard trained and known as gifted speakers.

Obama took the stage at the Democratic National Convention to deliver a keynote speech that launched him to a new level of party stardom. Keyes occupied many stages nationally to debate candidates over the course of two presidential campaigns — debates that established him as a force to be reckoned with.

“He's one of the best rhetoricians in America,” columnist Jonah Goldberg wrote of Keyes. “Off the cuff, he can articulate very conservative positions on everything from abortion to the United Nations better than most politicians can in prepared speeches.”

His oratorical style is considered either fiery or shrill, eloquent or abrasive.

“Alan Keyes is extremely articulate and tells it like it is,” said William Beckman, a Chicago pro-life advocate. “When the general populace has an opportunity to hear what he has to say, they'll hear the truth. He certainly has thoughtful answers on just about any issue.”

Beckman has produced a candidate survey for his parish, St. George in Tinley Park, listing the positions of major candidates on life, marriage, national security, religious freedom, school choice and other issues. “I'm just convinced that when people are able to look at something that clearly shows, on the record, what politicians believe, they'll stop voting like robots and ask, ‘Is that really what that person stands for?’”

‘Issue to be Heard’

Keyes hopes so. “I know for a fact that there are many, many people who care deeply about abortion issues and the moral principles that are involved, about the destruction of the moral fabric of our country, the undermining of the foundation of the family and the destruction of the moral basis of education,” he said.

Nonetheless, voices on the right and left have said Keyes has little chance of winning.

“The Republican nomination of Alan Keyes has all the marks of a placeholder candidacy: He's not on the ballot to win, but to help turn out a conservative base that will help GOP candidates in other contests,” wrote National Review political reporter John Miller. “Democratic state senator Barack Obama is all but guaranteed victory in November.”

Not so fast, says Dolores Grier, former vice chancellor of the Archdiocese of New York and co-host of EWTN's series “Black & Catholic.”

She believes Keyes' views are widely shared in the black community. “Despite the fact that many blacks are Democrat, they're conservative on many issues,” she said. “Most black ministers are pro-life, but don't want to get involved in the movement. Keyes entering this race will be good for that movement, because the issue will be heard now, and people will be enlightened.”

Keyes entered the race with a loud declaration to make that the central issue. He accused Obama of representing “the slaveholder's position” on abortion, depriving the unborn of their equal rights. “I believe that the No. 1 issue facing this country is the collapse of the moral foundation of our liberty, and the issue that epitomizes that destruction is abortion.”

The political wing of Illinois Citizens for Life couldn't be happier with this candidacy, forcing the issue onto a prominent stage.

“Alan Keyes will energize grass-roots pro-life people and help pro-life candidates,” said Illinois Citizens for Life political action committee chairman Ralph Rivera. “He articulates the position so well. His political handlers might say, ‘Don't spend so much time on that issue,’ but this is where his heart is.”

If Keyes has handlers, they are challenged.

“Saying the abortion issue should be played equal to every other issue is like in 1854 saying the slavery issue is equal to whether you should build canals,” Keyes said. “This is untrue. We're going to talk about other issues, but life is about priorities. … I want the people of this state, without equivocation, to choose between someone who fights to save innocent life and someone who is willing to stand by coldly while it is destroyed. Candidates haven't been willing to do this, to look black Christians in the eye and say, ‘You say this on Sunday; why aren't you voting it when Tuesday comes around?’ I'm not going to let them off the hook.”

Earlier in the campaign season, Obama called for six Lincoln-Douglas style debates. Now, with Keyes as his opponent, Obama has asked for three or fewer debates. The debates are eagerly anticipated by political observers far beyond Illinois, with United Press International calling this “a contest of intellect.”

Whoever wins, Illinois will have the only black U.S. senator. Keyes' entry into the contest has taken race off the table as a wedge issue. “That is one of the keys to this election, to break the Democrats' hold on that community,” he said. “You can't be seen to make appeals that are opportunistic. They have to grow out of the person you are.”

Sheila Gribben Liaugminas writes from Chicago.

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