One of the grand old men of Illinois conservatism, former State Sen. Don Totten, recalls vividly how a teenage Dave McSweeney volunteered to work at the campaign headquarters of Ronald Reagan for President in the 1980 primary. As Totten, who was Reagan’s state chairman in the 1976 and ’80 races, put it, “Dave would do anything—I mean anything—for Reagan and the campaign, right down to making coffee and sweeping the floors. You knew the kid was going to go far!”
And he did. McSweeney worked as an intern on Capitol Hill for conservative Rep. (1984-86) John Grotberg (R.-Ill.), earned a master’s degree in business administration from Duke University, and was elected a township trustee in his home town of Palatine.
In 1998, McSweeney surprised some of his fellow conservatives by challenging Rep. Phil Crane, an icon of the modern conservative movement, for renomination. As the insurgent candidate explained: “I admired Phil’s record and our race wasn’t about ideology. But I just felt he was not coming back to the district enough and that a future Democratic opponent could make major issues of that and his frequent travels elsewhere.” Crane defeated McSweeney, but the concerns about the incumbent’s weaknesses were borne out six years later. After 35 years in Congress, Crane was one of only two Republican House members to lose re-election in 2004, edged out by Democrat Melissa Bean as the 8th District elected a Democrat at the same time it was giving 56% of its votes to George W. Bush.
Now Dave McSweeney is the Republican nominee against first-termer Bean, trying to bring the district back to the GOP.
He pointedly says, “My opponent charged that Phil Crane was out-of-touch with our district because he was taking too many trips. Now she has been to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., with the JFK School of Government picking up the tab. She claims the Florida trip was ‘to study health care.’ Why doesn’t she just talk to her constituents back home about it?”
McSweeney, a hard campaigner, knocked on 5,000 doors district wide in winning the primary over three opponents. The conservative hopeful slams Bean for opposing lawsuit reform and a measure to provide new refineries that would, in McSweeney’s words, “bring down the cost of gas in Palatine and Schaumberg.” Bean, he charges, “voted for final passage on the border-security measure passed by the House—but only after she tried to kill the bill by voting to recommit it. Now she’s telling MSNBC she’s for a ‘path to citizenship.’ I’m for border security and against a ‘path’ that leads to amnesty, period.”
Yes, “the kid” has gone far. With help from his fellow conservatives, Dave McSweeney will now go even farther—to Congress.