With election approaching, Oberweis goes increasingly negative

Jim Oberweis, Republican challenger for U.S. Senate, addresses members of the City Club of Chicago at the Maggiano's on Grand Ave.
Jim Oberweis, Republican challenger for U.S. Senate, addresses members of the City Club of Chicago at the Maggiano’s on Grand Ave.

By Eric Cortellessa

With one month left until the Nov. 4 election, Illinois Sen. Jim Oberweis is going increasingly negative in his campaign to unseat U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin.

It’s his third campaign for the U.S. Senate, and Oberweis isn’t holding back. While addressing the City Club of Chicago Tuesday he labeled his opponent an “ultra-liberal,” a “walking job killer” and an “utter failure.”

The latest polling conducted by CBS, the New York Times and YouGov Global has Oberweis down 12 points to incumbent Durbin. The poll had a margin of error of 2 percent. The current campaign is one in a string for Oberweis, who in recent years has also run for Illinois governor and a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Dick Simpson, professor of political science at the University of Illinois at Chicago and a former Chicago aldermen, says Oberweis’ negative tone is a sign of desperation. “He needs to give voters reasons to vote against Durbin because not enough people have reasons to support him,” he said.

Like Republican gubernatorial candidate and investor Bruce Rauner, Oberweis is extolling his success in the private sector to sell his candidacy. Oberweis is best known as the CEO of Oberweis Dairy in North Aurora. He also runs an investment firm called Oberweis Funds.

In his advertising and stump speeches, Oberweis says Washington needs more “citizen legislators” like himself and fewer “career politicians” like Durbin. “If one of the managers of my ice cream stores or mutual funds kept failing, I would have fired them a long time ago,” he told a crowd of about 50 at Maggiano’s restaurant in River North. “And in four weeks, you will have an opportunity to fire Dick Durbin.”

Vinny Minchillo, a partner at Glass House Strategy, a political consulting firm, isn’t surprised by Oberweis’ rhetoric. “No one goes negative unless they have to,” he said. “If you are leading by a pretty comfortable margin, you can stay positive. But in the modern day, it’s very hard to stay 100 percent positive.”

Among Oberweis’ other targets Thursday were Durbin’s support of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act. If elected, Oberweis said he would help repeal and replace the health care law, which has already insured more than half a million Illinoisans.

To be sure, Durbin has done his own negative campaigning about his opponent. Durbin has criticized Oberweis for refusing to support legislation ensuring equal pay for women. Oberweis struck back Tuesday, alleging that Durbin pays the female director of his Chicago office $83,000 less than his downstate office director who is male.

Simpson is skeptical such charges and counter charges will alter the outcome of the election.

“So far Oberweis doesn’t have a chance to win,” he said. “But many things can happen before an election.”