August 06, 2004

Don't Run, Alan

What would have been my AmSpec column today, had W. James Antle III not beat me to the punch on the topic:

Let's recap.

Jack Ryan, the Republican candidate for Senate in Illinois, faced a scandal dug up from divorce records that media outlets demanded unsealed. Ryan vowed to stay in the race, but a few days later capitulated to the demands of GOP leaders (annoyed at him for having told them there was nothing of note in the divorce records) and dropped out of the race against Democratic rising star Barack Obama.

Since Ryan dropped out, the Illinois Republican party has cycled through a long list of possible candidates, including Mike Ditka. None of the choices have panned out.

Now, the party has approached the prominent black conservative Alan Keyes-- Reagan-era mid-level diplomat, nationally syndicated talk show host, author, and two-time long-shot candidate for the Republican presidential nomination. Keyes says he'll announce on Sunday whether he's decided to run or not.

If he has any sense, he'll say no.

For one thing, there's virtually no chance that he'll win. There's a reason that it's been so difficult to find a candidate: no one in Illinois want to enter the enormously uphill race against Obama. What ambitious politician wants to add "loser" to his resume? Keyes is especially handicapped: a passionate pro-lifer, he'd face an electorate who's core swing demographic consists of fiscally conservative, socially liberal suburbanites, represented by such pro-choice Republicans as Reps. Judy Biggert and Mark Kirk; the latter voted against even a partial-birth abortion ban. Add on top of that the carpetbag factor: Keyes has never lived in Illinois.

His political history suggests that Keyes doesn't mind losing; besides his dead-end bids for president, he was the Republican nominee for Senate in Maryland twice, garnering 38% of the vote in 1988 and a measly 29% in 1992. Keyes is a tireless self-promoter, and may be tempted to jump into that race to that end.

But there's one thing that should be a deal-breaker. Much of Keyes's personal success, like his political failure, can be traced to his uncompromising devotion to his conservative principles. And one of those principles happens to be an aversion to carpetbagging.

In 2000, Pat Buchanan suggested to Keyes on television that he run for Senate in New York. Keyes's response: "I deeply resent the destruction of federalism represented by Hillary Clinton's willingness go into a state she doesn't even live in and pretend to represent people there, so I certainly wouldn't imitate it." And yesterday the Chicago Sun-Times quoted Keyes, on running in state he's never lived in: "As a matter of principle, I don't think it's a good idea."

"It has to be something where I would be convinced it's not only consonant with federalism as I understand it but that it's in the best interest of the state and of the nation," Keyes continued.

Perhaps Keyes could convince himself that it's good for Illinois, and good for the country, for two black men to run against each other for Senate. And it would send a powerful message about how far we've come in terms of race. But Keyes would have to do intellectual backflips to square this with his views on federalism.

When Dennis Kucinich ran for president, he ditched a long pro-life record and suddenly started calling for a pro-Roe v. Wade Supreme Court litmus test. That might have made sense in a bid to become a leader in his ideological niche, but it undercut Kucinich's reputation as a man of unbending left-wing principle.

If there were a Senate seat in Illinois waiting for Alan Keyes, he could be forgiven for similarly compromising. But there isn't. On Sunday, Keyes should give the Illinois Republican Party a gracious "Thanks, but no thanks."

Posted by John Tabin at August 6, 2004 11:49 PM