GOP stalwart lauds Obama in TV ads - Hinsdale's Dillard showcased in Iowa
By Rick Pearson and John McCormick
Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune
Published June 26, 2007
Sen. Barack Obama's Democratic presidential campaign said Monday that it is launching television ads in the early caucus state of Iowa, including one that features a prominent DuPage County Republican who has been questioned by members of his own party for his strong touting of Obama's skills.
State Sen. Kirk Dillard (R-Hinsdale), a friend of Obama's from his days in Springfield, tells viewers that Obama was respected on both sides of the political aisle during his time in the Illinois General Assembly.
"His negotiation skills and an ability to understand both sides would serve the country very well," he says in one of two advertisements Obama's campaign will start airing statewide on Tuesday in Iowa.
The advertising is arriving earlier than normal; candidates typically hold off on such spending during the summer months, when many voters are taking vacations and not paying close attention to politics.
Obama is the second Democratic presidential candidate to start television advertising in Iowa, following New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson. And former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a Republican, saw a significant rise in his polling numbers after he started spending heavily on ads in Iowa earlier this year.
Andy McKenna, Illinois' Republican chairman, expressed surprise about Dillard.
"It's disappointing to see him work for Sen. Obama given that all his work should be for a Republican candidate who is more experienced and more qualified," McKenna said at a GOP unity gathering in Peoria. "I think it undercuts his ability to help any Republican candidate."
Dillard said in an interview that he is officially backing the presidential bid of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and told the McCain campaign he still intends to run as a convention-delegate candidate pledged to the Arizona senator in Illinois' Feb. 5 primary. Dillard agreed to appear in Obama's ad more than a month ago as a favor to his former state Senate colleague.
Praise, not an endorsement
His praise for Obama, which he said stops short of an endorsement, runs counter to some things Dillard said when Obama was campaigning for the U.S. Senate in 2004.
"He's shown a tendency to work on non-philosophical issues, but has been nowhere near the middle of the road, despite how he is trying to portray himself now," Dillard said then. "Even though I have sponsored major legislation with Barack and I like him personally, clearly he is soft on crime and borderline socialist on health care."
These days, Dillard said he doesn't believe the "soft-on-crime" tag is appropriate. Obama, he said, now represents the entire state and has to be "more moderate," rather than only reflecting the liberal Hyde Park area he represented in the state Senate. Still, Dillard said Obama leans "too far to the left" on health care.
Both of the new ads start out with images of Obama from his 2004 Democratic National Convention speech, the appearance that kicked his political career into high gear. They both seek to highlight the candidate's biography while trying to make the case that he is experienced enough to run the country.
Obama's campaign aides declined to say how much would be spent on the ads.
"Strategy-wise, whatever he does is going to get covered and noticed," said Evan Tracey, chief operating officer of Campaign Media Analysis Group, which tracks political advertising. "He doesn't have to spend a lot to get a lot in this case."
Dillard, said that if he were still a member of the Illinois Republican State Central Committee or chairman of the DuPage County GOP organization, he would have refused the request. He said he taped the interview after he stepped down from the county Republican post.
He acknowledged he might face fallout for the ad, particularly since some local as well as state Republicans had been critical of his glowing testaments to Obama's tenure in the Illinois Senate in the months leading up to the Democrat's candidacy and after.
Obama 'is a personal friend'
"Certainly I care what Republicans think, but Sen. Obama is a personal friend, someone I worked closely with on issues we're both proud of," Dillard said. "He's my United States senator and I think his candidacy, whether he wins or loses, is good for Illinois and it's good for the United States."
Dillard worked with Obama on legislation that included ethics reforms, changing Illinois' death penalty law and efforts to combat racial profiling.
After a new television ad shows images from Barack Obama's 2004 speech to the Democratic National Convention, Illinois Republican state Sen. Kirk Dillard outlines his support for Obama: "Sen. Obama worked on some of the deepest issues we had and was successful in a bipartisan way. Republican legislators respected Sen. Obama. His negotiation skills and an ability to understand both sides would serve the country very well."
IN THE WEB EDITION The Tribune's Washington blog, The Swamp, discusses the ads and includes a link to the videos. Go to chicagotribune.com/obamaads