Friday, October 17, 2008

Durbin doesn't mind being 'the other Illinois Senator'

Durbin doesn't mind being 'the other Illinois Senator'

Dick Durbin, the senior senator from Illinois, doesn't mind at all that he's being overshadowed by his junior colleague, Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama.

"It reminds me of a baseball player who's been on the team for a while, and he's got a good batting average, people like him, and along comes this MVP rookie, and the next thing you know, you're in the World Series," Durbin, the Assistant Majority Leader in the Senate, told Iowa Independent. "That's the way I feel. Along came Barack, and I could see our party changing, and I could see our country changing. I couldn't be happier."

Senator Dick Durbin, D-Ill., speaks on the University of Iowa campus Friday.
Senator Dick Durbin, D-Ill., speaks on the University of Iowa campus Friday.

Durbin himself is on the ballot, running for a third term. "I've got some TV ads on so people remember my name," he said. But his seat is safe enough that he has campaigned in 20 states for Obama and Senate candidates, including several Friday stops in Iowa. He spoke to a group of students on the University of Iowa campus, many of whom hailed from Illinois. "I love Evanston! I got 95 percent of the vote there," he said, grinning, as one student named her home town.

Durbin is Downstate to Obama's South Side, a folksy and conversational contrast to Obama's oratory, but the two have long been political allies. Durbin was one of Obama's earliest supporters, and traveled to Iowa with Obama on the day Obama announced his candidacy in February 2007.

“Iowa launched the campaign of Barack Obama for president" in the caucuses, Durbin told the midday crowd of students. "That really was the beginning. Now we've gotta close the deal.”

“20 years from now people are going to as you where were you when Barack Obama was elected, and you don't want to say you were down at Culver's eating butter burgers," said Durbin. "You want to day you were part of history.” Part of the pitch was to encourage students to vote early to free up more time to help get out the vote on Election Day. The senator steered voters toward a satellite voting site at the Old Capitol Mall, two blocks to the south. “I don't want to encourage you to cut classes and vote early... but it is Friday afternoon.” Over 2,500 voters took advantage of the five days of voting at Old Capitol Mall, which ended Friday. More sites open beginning Monday.

“The people who need tax breaks are not the wealthiest Americans," said Durbin. "The people who need tax breaks are your moms and dads sending you to college. The economy is a mess because we have followed the lead of George Bush.”

Durbin, as most Democratic surrogate speakers do, praised John McCain the Man while opposing McCain on policy. “John McCain is a great guy. He's served our country well. But when we look to the future we need leaders who look to the future. Barack Obama gets it. He gets it better than I do to be honest.”

"I don't think people are buying the negative ads, all that stuff about 'palling around with terrorists' and stuff," Durbin told Iowa Independent when asked about the negative tone of the campaign. "It just didn't work. It ended up driving down McCain's numbers. We're in a serious time. This economy needs help. We need some serious leadership. And just, you know, throwing names around and saying Barack's responsible for some guy doing bad things when Barack was 8 years old really is a stretch."

Durbin is optimistic about Democratic chances for gains in the Senate. "We're at 51 now, we keep all our Dems, I can see us picking up seats in New Hampshire, Virginia, New Mexico and Colorado. Alaska will depend to some extent on the trial" of Republican incumbent Ted Stevens, Durbin told Iowa Independent. "Then we have potential pickup seats in Oregon, where we're running even or ahead by a point or two; Minnesota, where we're running ahead by three or four points now; North Carolina, where we're up several points at this moment. And we have potential with Jim Martin in Georgia, which is a surprise, and we're running even in Kentucky against Mitch McConnell," the Republican Senate leader. "I’m going there Monday for an event," said Durbin.

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