United States Senate election in Illinois, 2004

United States Senate election in Illinois, 2004

United States Senate election in Illinois, 2004

November 2, 2004

Nominee Barack Obama Alan Keyes
Party Democratic Republican
Popular vote 3,597,456 1,390,690
Percentage 70.0% 27.0%

County results

U.S. Senator before election

Peter Fitzgerald

Elected U.S. Senator

Barack Obama

The 2004 United States Senate election in Illinois was held on November 2, 2004. Incumbent Republican U.S. Senator Peter Fitzgerald decided to retire after one term. The Democratic and Republican primary elections were held in March, which included a total of 15 candidates who combined to spend a record total of over $60 million seeking the open seat. State Senator Barack Obama won the Democratic primary and Jack Ryan won the Republican primary. Three months later, Ryan announced his withdrawal from the race four days after the Chicago Tribune persuaded a California court to release child custody records. Six weeks later, the Illinois Republican State Central Committee chose former Diplomat Alan Keyes to replace Ryan as the Republican candidate. The election was the first for the U.S. Senate in which both major party candidates were African American. Obama's 43% margin of victory was the largest in the state history of U.S. Senate elections. The inequality in the candidates spending for the fall elections - $14,244,768 by Obama and $2,545,325 by Keyes - is also among the largest in history in both absolute and relative terms.[1]


  • Democratic primary 1
    • Candidates 1.1
    • Campaign 1.2
    • Results 1.3
  • Republican primary 2
    • Candidates 2.1
    • Campaign 2.2
    • Results 2.3
  • General election 3
    • Obama vs. Ryan 3.1
    • Obama vs. Keyes 3.2
    • Results 3.3
  • References 4
  • Further reading 5

Democratic primary




Obama float at the 2004 Bud Billiken Parade and Picnic

Fitzgerald's predecessor, Democrat Carol Moseley Braun, declined to run. Barack Obama, a member of the Illinois Senate since 1997 and an unsuccessful 2000 Democratic primary challenger to four-term incumbent U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush for Rush's U.S House seat, launched a campaign committee at the beginning of July 2002 to run for the U.S. Senate, 21 months before the March 2004 primary,[3] and two months later had David Axelrod lined up to do his campaign media.[4] Obama formally announced his candidacy on January 21, 2003,[5] four days after former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun announced she would not seek a rematch with U.S. Sen. Peter Fitzgerald.[6]

On April 15, 2003, with six Democrats already running and three Republicans threatening to run against him,[7] incumbent Fitzgerald announced he would not seek a second term in 2004,[8] and three weeks later popular Republican former Governor Jim Edgar declined to run,[9] leading to wide open Democratic and Republican primary races with 15 candidates, including 7 millionaires[10] (triggering the first application of the Millionaires' Amendment of the 2002 McCain–Feingold Act), in the most expensive Senate primary in U.S. history.[11]

Obama touted his legislative experience and early public opposition to the Iraq War to distinguish himself from his Democratic primary rivals. Illinois Comptroller Dan Hynes won the endorsement of the AFL-CIO. Obama succeeded in obtaining the support of three of the state's largest and most active member unions: AFSCME, SEIU, and the Illinois Federation of Teachers. Hynes and multimillionaire former securities trader Blair Hull each won the endorsements of two of nine Democratic Illinois congressmen. Obama had the endorsements of four: Jesse Jackson, Jr., Danny Davis, Lane Evans, and Jan Schakowsky.

Obama surged into the lead after he finally began television advertising in Chicago in the final three weeks of the campaign, which was expanded to downstate Illinois during the last six days of the campaign. The ads included strong endorsements by the five largest newspapers in Illinois—the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Daily Herald, The Rockford Register Star, and Peoria Journal Star—and a testimonial by Sheila Simon that Obama was "cut from that same cloth" as her father, the late former U.S. Senator Paul Simon, who had planned to endorse and campaign for Obama before his unexpected death in December 2003.[12]


On March 16, 2004, Obama won the Democratic primary by an unexpected landslide—receiving 53% of the vote, 29% ahead of his nearest Democratic rival, with a vote total that nearly equaled that of all eight Republican candidates combined—which overnight made him a rising star in the national Democratic Party, started speculation about a presidential future, and led to the reissue of his memoir, Dreams from My Father.[13][14] The Democratic primary election, including seven candidates who combined to spend over $46 million, was the most expensive U.S. Senate primary election in history.

Democratic Primary, United States Senate, March 16, 2004
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Democratic Barack Obama 655,923 52.8
Democratic Daniel W. Hynes 294,717 23.7
Democratic M. Blair Hull 134,453 10.8
Democratic Maria Pappas 74,987 6.0
Democratic Gery Chico 53,433 4.3
Democratic Nancy Skinner 16,098 1.3
Democratic Joyce Washington 13,375 1.1
Democratic Estella Johnson-Hunt (write-in) 10 0.0
Majority 361,206 29.4
Turnout 1,242,996

Republican primary



GOP frontrunner Jack Ryan had divorced actress Jeri Ryan in 1999, and the records of the divorce were sealed at their mutual request. Five years later, when Ryan's Senate campaign began, the Chicago Tribune newspaper and WLS-TV, the local ABC affiliate, sought to have the records released. On March 3, 2004, several of Ryan's GOP primary opponents urged Ryan to release the records.[15] Both Ryan and his wife agreed to make their divorce records public, but not make the child custody records public, claiming that the custody records could be harmful to their son if released. Ryan went on to win the GOP primary on March 16, 2004 defeating his nearest competitor, Jim Oberweis, by twelve percentage points.[16]

Ryan was a proponent of across-the-board tax cuts and tort reform, an effort to limit payout in medical malpractice lawsuits. He was also a proponent of school choice and supported vouchers for private school students.

Oberweis's 2004 campaign was notable for a television commercial where he flew in a helicopter over Chicago's Soldier Field, and claimed enough illegal immigrants came into America in a week (10,000 a day) to fill the stadium's 61,500 seats.[17][18] Oberweis was also fined $21,000 by the Federal Election Commission for a commercial for his dairy that ran during his 2004 Senate campaign. The FEC ruled that the commercial wrongly benefited his campaign and constituted a corporate contribution, thus violating campaign law.[19]


Republican Primary, United States Senate, March 16, 2004
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Republican Jack Ryan 234,791 35.5
Republican Jim Oberweis 155,794 23.5
Republican Steven J. Rauschenberger 132,655 20.0
Republican Andrew McKenna 97,238 14.7
Republican Jonathan C. Wright 17,189 2.6
Republican John Borling 13,390 2.0
Republican Norm Hill 5,637 0.9
Republican Chirinjeev Kathuria 5,110 0.8
Majority 78,997 11.9
Turnout 661,804

General election

Obama vs. Ryan

As a result of the GOP and Democratic primaries, Democrat Barack Obama was pitted against Republican Jack Ryan.

Ryan trailed Obama in early polls, after the media reported that Ryan had assigned Justin Warfel, a Ryan campaign worker, to track Obama's appearances.[20] The tactic backfired when many people, including Ryan's supporters, criticized this activity. Ryan's spokesman apologized, and promised that Warfel would give Obama more space. Obama acknowledged that it is standard practice to film an opponent in public, and Obama said he was satisfied with Ryan's decision to have Warfel back off.[20]

As the campaign progressed, the lawsuit brought by the Chicago Tribune to open child custody files from Ryan's divorce was still continuing. Barack Obama's backers emailed reporters about the divorce controversy, but refrained from on-the-record commentary.[21] On March 29, 2004, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Robert Schnider ruled that several of the Ryans' divorce records should be opened to the public, and ruled that a court-appointed referee would later decide which custody files should remain sealed to protect the interests of Ryan's young child.[22] A few days later, on April 2, 2004, Barack Obama changed his position about the Ryans' soon-to-be-released divorce records, and called on Democrats to not inject them into the campaign.[21]

On June 22, 2004, after receiving the report from the court-appointed referee, the judge released the files that were deemed consistent with the interests of Ryan's young child. In those files, Jeri Ryan alleged that Jack Ryan had taken her to sex clubs in several cities, intending for them to have sex in public.[23][24] The decision to release the files generated much controversy because it went against both parents' direct request, and because it reversed the earlier decision to seal the papers in the best interest of the child. Jim Oberweis, Ryan's defeated GOP opponent, commented that "these are allegations made in a divorce hearing, and we all know people tend to say things that aren't necessarily true in divorce proceedings when there is money involved and custody of children involved."[23]

Although their sensational nature made the revelations fodder for tabloid and television programs specializing in such stories, the files were also newsworthy because of questions about whether Ryan had accurately described the documents to GOP party leaders. Prior to release of the documents, Ryan had told leading Republicans that five percent of the divorce file could cause problems for his campaign.[25] But after the documents were released, GOP officials including state GOP Chair Judy Baar Topinka said they felt Ryan had misleadingly indicated the divorce records would not be embarrassing.[26] That charge of dishonesty led to intensifying calls for Ryan's withdrawal, though Topinka, who was considering running herself, said after the June 25 withdrawal that Ryan's "decision was a personal one" and that the state GOP had not pressured Ryan to drop out.[27] Ryan's campaign ended less than a week after the custody records were opened, and Ryan officially filed the documentation to withdraw on July 29, 2004. Obama was left without an opponent.

Obama vs. Keyes

The Illinois Republican State Central Committee chose former diplomat Alan Keyes to replace Ryan as the Republican candidate. Keyes, a conservative Republican from Maryland, faced an uphill battle. First, Keyes had few ties to Illinois political leaders. Second, the lack of an opponent allowed Obama to campaign throughout the more conservative downstate regions to build up name recognition. Third, Keyes was seen as a carpetbagger, only establishing legal residency in Calumet City, Illinois days before running. The Chicago Tribune in an editorial, stated that "Mr. Keyes may have noticed a large body of water as he flew into O'Hare. That is called Lake Michigan."[28] In 2000, Keyes attacked Hillary Clinton for running for US Senator from New York even though she had never lived there, calling her a carpetbagger.[29] Keyes attacked Barack Obama for voting against a bill that would have outlawed a form of late-term abortion.[30]

Obama ran the most successful Senate campaign in 2004, and was so far ahead in polls that he soon began to campaign outside of Illinois in support of other Democratic candidates. He gave large sums of campaign funds to other candidates and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and sent many of his volunteers to work on other races, including that of eventual three-term Congresswoman Melissa Bean who defeated then-Congressman Phil Crane in that year's election. Obama and Keyes differed on many issues including school vouchers and tax cuts, both of which Keyes supported and Obama opposed.[31]


2004 Illinois U.S. Senate Election
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Democratic Barack Obama 3,597,456 70.0 +22.6
Republican Alan Keyes 1,390,690 27.0 -23.3
Independent Al Franzen 81,164 1.6
Libertarian Jerry Kohn 69,253 1.3
Write-ins 2,957 0.1
Majority 2,206,766 43.0 +40.1
Turnout 5,350,493 71.3
Democratic gain from Republican Swing

The Obama-Keyes race was one of the first to be called on Election Day, November 2, 2004.

At the start of Keyes' candidacy in August, Keyes had 24% support in the polls. He received 27% of the vote in the November general election to Obama's 70%.[32]

Following the election, Keyes refused to call Obama to congratulate him. Media reports claimed that Keyes also failed to concede the race to Obama. Two days after the election, a radio interviewer asked Keyes whether he had conceded the race. Keyes replied, "Of course I've conceded the race. I mean, I gave my speech to that effect."[33]

On the radio program, Keyes explained that his refusal to congratulate Obama was "not anything personal," but was meant to make a statement against "extend[ing] false congratulations to the triumph of what we have declared to be across the line." He said that Obama's position on moral issues regarding life and the family had crossed that line. "I'm supposed to make a call that represents the congratulations toward the triumph of that which I believe ultimately stands for... a culture evil enough to destroy the very soul and heart of my country? I can't do this. And I will not make a false gesture," Keyes said.[33]

Obama would go on to be elected President of the United States in 2008.


  1. ^ Jacobson, Gary C. (March 30, 2006). "The First Congressional Elections After BCRA". The Election After Reform: Money, Politics and the Bipartisan Campaign RDUNIAt. Rowman and Littlefield. p. 195.  
  2. ^ "Will Mr. Obama go to Washington? Illinois state legislator seeks to become only black U.S. senator.(Washington Report)". Black Enterprise. February 1, 2004. 
  3. ^ Neal, Steve (July 3, 2002). "Obama could add drama to Senate race" (paid archive). Chicago Sun-Times. p. 41. Retrieved 2008-11-04. 
  4. ^ . (September 1, 2002). "No shortage of candidates for U.S. Senate run in '04" (paid archive). The State Journal-Register. p. 15. Retrieved 2008-11-04. 
  5. ^ Pearson, Rick; Chase, John (January 22, 2003). "Legislator in race to unseat Fitzgerald; Democrat seeks 2004 nomination for U.S. Senate" (paid archive). Chicago Tribune. p. 4 (Metro). Retrieved 2008-11-04. 
  6. ^ Krol, Eric (January 18, 2003). "Ex-senator doesn't want rematch with Fitzgerald" (paid archive). Daily Herald (Arlington Heights). p. 11. Retrieved 2008-11-04. 
    Zorn, Eric (January 18, 2003). "Moseley-Braun gives Democrats reason for hope" (paid archive). Chicago Tribune. p. 15 (Metro). Retrieved 2008-11-04. 
  7. ^ Krol, Eric (December 9, 2002). "Why senator ending up more isolated; Fitzgerald's style has both Democrats and Republicans planning to challenge him" (paid archive). Daily Herald (Arlington Heights). p. 1. Retrieved 2008-11-04. 
    Neal, Steve (April 16, 2003). "Writing was on the wall after latest Fitzgerald polls" (paid archive). Chicago Sun-Times. p. 55. Retrieved 2008-11-04. 
  8. ^ Wilgoren, Jodi (April 16, 2003). "Illinois Senator announces he won't seek re-election". The New York Times. p. A.10. Retrieved 2008-11-04. 
  9. ^ Pearson, Rick; Chase, John (May 10, 2003). "GOP Senate floodgates open as Edgar says no" (paid archive). Chicago Tribune. p. 1. Retrieved 2008-11-04. 
  10. ^ Davey, Monica (March 7, 2004). "Closely watched Illinois Senate race attracts 7 candidates in millionaire range". The New York Times. p. 1.19. Retrieved 2008-11-04. 
    . (March 7, 2004). "Candidate wealth; net worth of the richest Illinois candidates for the U.S. Senate". The New York Times. p. 1.19. Retrieved 2008-11-04. 
  11. ^ Justice, Glen (October 17, 2003). "In races with one deep pocket, the law tries to tailor a second". The New York Times. p. A.1. Retrieved 2008-11-04. 
  12. ^ Rosenbaum, David E. (December 10, 2003). "Paul Simon, former Senator from Illinois, is dead at 75". The New York Times. p. A29. Retrieved 2008-11-04. 
    Long, Ray (December 10, 2003). "A legacy of honesty and dignity; Straight-talking manner appealed even to conservatives" (paid archive). Chicago Tribune. p. 1. Retrieved 2008-11-04. 
    Neal, Steve (December 31, 2003). "Obama's endorsements stacking up; Before he died, former Sen. Paul Simon had decided to endorse Obama" (paid archive). Chicago Sun-Times. p. 33. Retrieved 2008-11-04. 
    Schoenburg, Bernard (February 26, 2004). "Obama gets endorsement from Simon's daughter" (paid archive). The State Journal-Register. p. 12. Retrieved 2008-11-04. 
    Wallace-Wells, Ben (April 1, 2007). "Obama's narrator". The New York Times Magazine. Retrieved 2008-04-13. 
    Mendell (2007), pp. 227–232
  13. ^ Mendell, David (March 17, 2004). "Obama routs Democratic foes; Ryan tops crowded GOP field; Hynes, Hull fall far short across state". Chicago Tribune. p. 1. Retrieved 2008-11-04. 
    Fornek, Scott; Herguth, Robert C. (March 17, 2004). "Obama defeats Hull's millions, Hynes' name; Consistent effort results in landslide for Hyde Parker" (paid archive). Chicago Sun-Times. p. 2. Retrieved 2008-11-04. 
    Brown, Mark (March 17, 2004). "Voters warmed to Obama, the next hot politician" (paid archive). Chicago Sun-Times. p. 2. Retrieved 2009-12-14. 
    Wills, Christopher (Associated Press) (March 18, 2004). "Republican Ryan trying to battle new Democratic star despite questions" (paid archive). Times-Courier. Retrieved 2009-12-14. 
    Mendell, David (March 18, 2004). "Ryan, Obama enter new ring; Democrat carries high hopes of blacks with him to center stage" (paid archive). Chicago Tribune. p. 1. Retrieved 2009-12-14. 
    Sweet, Lynn (March 18, 2004). "Senate Democrats race to raise cash for Obama. The Obama campaign energized voters. The Ryan election did not get people to the polls" (paid archive). Chicago Sun-Times. p. 43. Retrieved 2009-12-14. 
    Krol, Eric (March 18, 2004). "Campaign starts early for Ryan, Obama; Senate hopefuls already trying to define each other" (paid archive). Daily Herald (Arlington Heights). p. 1. Retrieved 2009-12-14. 
    . (March 18, 2004). "Illinois primary victor is Party's Senate hope; Democratic leaders see the state as a key battleground in their effort to regain control" (paid archive). Los Angeles Times. p. A25. Retrieved 2009-12-14. 
    Tilove, Jonathan (Newhouse News Service) (March 18, 2004). "Barack Obama: Black Senate candidate a rising star" (paid archive). Mobile Register. p. A06. Retrieved 2009-12-14. 
    Davey, Monica (March 18, 2004). "As quickly as overnight, a Democratic star is born". The New York Times. p. A20. Retrieved 2008-11-04. 
    Howlett, Debbie (March 19, 2004). "Dems see a rising star in Illinois Senate candidate". USA Today. p. A04. Retrieved 2008-11-04. 
    Harwood, John (March 31, 2004). "Presidential politics overshadows rise of state-level stars". The Wall Street Journal (paid archive). p. A4. 
    Romano, Lois (April 10, 2004). "Kerry sprinkles jobs message with attacks on Iraq policy" (paid archive). The Washington Post. p. A4. Retrieved 2009-12-14. 
    Fornek, Scott (April 12, 2004). "Obama's poll puts him far ahead of Ryan" (paid archive). Chicago Sun-Times. p. 7. Retrieved 2009-12-14. 
    Kuhnhenn, James (May 24, 2004). "With seven retirements, control of Senate is at stake in election" (paid archive). The Philadelphia Inquirer. p. A02. Retrieved 2009-12-14. 
    Scheiber, Noam (May 31, 2004). "Race against history. Barack Obama's miraculous campaign". The New Republic. pp. 21–22, 24–26 (cover story). Retrieved 2009-12-14. 
    Finnegan, William (May 31, 2004). "The Candidate. How far can Barack Obama go?". The New Yorker. pp. 32–38. Retrieved 2009-12-14. 
    Dionne Jr., E. J. (June 25, 2004). "In Illinois, a star prepares". The Washington Post. p. A29. Retrieved 2009-12-14. 
    Mendell (2007), pp. 235–259.
  14. ^ Turow, Scott (March 30, 2004). "The new face of the Democratic Party -- and America". Salon.com. Retrieved 2009-12-28. 
    Cader, Michael (July 30, 2004). "Publishers eyeing Obama". The New York Sun. Retrieved 2009-12-28. 
    Leroux, Charles (August 6, 2004). "The buzz around Obama's book". Chicago Tribune. p. 1 (Tempo). Retrieved 2009-12-28. 
    Sweet, Lynn (March 17, 2005). "Be-bop, Barack and bucks from book". Chicago Sun-Times. p. 39. Retrieved 2009-12-28. 
    Scott, Janny (May 18, 2008). "The story of Obama, written by Obama". The New York Times. p. A1. Retrieved 2009-12-28. 
  15. ^ Fornek, Scott; Herrmann, Andrew. “Senate rivals urge Ryan to unseal divorce records”, Chicago Sun-Times (March 4, 2004).
  16. ^ Davey, Monica. “From Crowded Field, Democrats Choose State Legislator to Seek Senate Seat” (March 17, 2004).
  17. ^ Ford, Liam; Avila, Oscar. "Oberweis ads rile immigrant groups". Chicago Tribune. 
  18. ^ Andres Salles (November 16, 2007). "Oberweis: hard line on immigration". The Beacon News. 
  19. ^ cbs2chicago.com - Oberweis Fined For Funding Campaign With Dairy Ad
  20. ^ a b Mendell, David (May 23, 2004). "Ryan aide to give Obama more space".  
  21. ^ a b Fornek, Scott. "Obama: Back off divorce files", Chicago Sun-Times (April 3, 2004).
  22. ^ Ford, Liam. “Some Ryan divorce files should be unsealed”, Chicago Tribune (March 30, 2004).
  23. ^ a b  
  24. ^ Lannan, Maura Kelly (June 22, 2004). "Illinois Republican vows to stay in Senate race despite embarrassing allegations". SignOnSanDiego.com. Associated Press. Retrieved 2007-08-12. 
  25. ^ Martinez, Michael; Pearson, Rick. “Court sets release of Ryan's divorce file”, Chicago Tribune (June 18, 2004).
  26. ^ Pearson, Rick; Ford, Liam. “GOP leaders say they felt misled on Ryan file”, Chicago Tribune (June 23, 2004).
  27. ^ Ford, Liam; Bush, Rudolph. “Ryan Quits Race”, Chicago Tribune 2004-06-26.
  28. ^ "Commentary: The GOP's rent-a-senator". Chicago Tribune. August 6, 2004. Retrieved 2013-01-21. 
  29. ^ "Plan B for Illinois". The New York Times. August 10, 2004. Archived from the original on September 21, 2005. Retrieved December 25, 2009. 
  30. ^ Robinson, Mike (August 9, 2004). "Keyes assails Obama's abortion views". The Associated Press (MSNBC.com). Retrieved 2009-12-27. 
  31. ^ Alan Keyes Archives, 2004 Illinois Debates
  32. ^ "America Votes 2004: U.S. Senate/Illinois". CNN. Retrieved 2007-08-12. 
  33. ^ a b Thomas, Scott (November 4, 2004). "Alan Keyes on the Scott Thomas Show, WYLL". Allan Keyes Archives. Retrieved 2007-08-12. 

Further reading

  • Henderson, Harold; et al. (March 12, 2004). "15 Candidates! We Can Help—The Reader's Guide to the Big Showdown". Chicago Reader. p. 1. Retrieved 2009-01-24. 
  • Mendell, David (August 14, 2007). Obama: From Promise to Power. New York: Amistad/HarperCollins. pp. 147–302.