Although they disagree on taxes, abortion, and 2nd Amendment rights, President Bush has asked former Illinois Gov. Jim Edgar to seek the Republican nomination to replace retiring Sen. Peter Fitzgerald (R.-Ill.).
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said last week, "The President did call Governor Edgar and did urge him to run for the Senate."
Edgar, long an adversary of conservatives, recently held a private dinner in Chicago to discuss a Senate bid. His fellow diners included Illinois Republican National Committeeman Bob Kjellander, National Republican Senatorial Committee Executive Director Jay Timmons, and NRSC political director Patrick Gray, and Carter Hendron, who managed Edgar’s two gubernatorial bids.
"He’s really, really seriously considering the Senate race," said Kjellander.
Kjellander conceded that Edgar is more moderate than Fitzgerald (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 92%). "I’m pro-life and he’s pro-choice," said Kjellander. But he quickly added that "we lost every statewide office and both houses of the legislature last November, and Jim’s the only Republican who can win. And keeping a Republican majority in the Senate is what I care about."
As a gubernatorial candidate in 1990, Edgar promised the National Abortion Rights Action League he would veto any pro-life legislation. (Kjellander pointed out that Edgar now supports the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban). Edgar also said he would support a 20% income tax increase to fund education. A year later, as governor, he proposed a $1.6 billion income tax increase in return for a cut in property taxes, but Republican legislators killed the deal.
As governor, Edgar became increasingly hostile to gun rights. In 1997, he vetoed a bill supported by the National Rifle Association that would have reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor a first offense for carrying a concealed handgun.
Many Republicans now willing to accept Edgar were critical of Fitzgerald for voting for gun control, campaign finance "reform," and environmental legislation. "Peter would leave his ideological roots at home and desert people who first elected him six years ago," said conservative State Sen. Ed Petka, one of Fitzgerald’s early 1998 backers. Yet, Fitzgerald remained the most conservative senator from Illinois since Everett Dirksen, who served from 1950-69. He clearly is more conservative than Edgar.
Fitzgerald was an outspoken advocate for Bush judicial appointees, voted pro-life, and made enemies within his own party by opposing pork barrel projects such as expanding O’Hare International Airport.
Republican former state legislators Tom Johnson and Tom McCracken, both strong conservatives, had been eyeing the nomination. Both have indicated they would step aside for Edgar.