Illinois' Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat in the U.S. Senate, faced off against Republican rival Jim Oberweis in a frequently hostile "endorsement debate" before the Chicago Tribune editorial board on Monday.
Chicago's conservative-leaning paper recently live-streamed a similar pseudo-debate featuring Gov. Pat Quinn and GOP challenger Bruce Rauner wherein the two enemies were figuratively at each other's throats for the better part of 90 minutes.
Stretching past an hour, Durbin and Oberweis' exchange began on a respectful note and closed the opposite as the opponents delivered blows on the former's controversial 2010 letter urging the Internal Revenue Service to investigate a conservative political group and the latter's association with the tea party movement.
Oberweis, whose chances of defeating the Democratic incumbent are slim to none, as evidenced by a recent Trib poll, seized another opportunity to target Durbin for requesting the IRS probe Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS, a conservative organization that has poured millions in anonymous donations toward like-minded causes and candidates.
The Sugar Grove dairy magnate, who operates a chain of ice cream stores, whipped out purported evidence revealing further correspondence between Durbin and fomer IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman, sniping that the senator should "stop lying" about his alleged Nixonian attempts to investigate political nemeses.
"I wasn't hiding a thing, and I won't hide a thing," said Durbin, calling for political groups of all stripes to disclose their donor lists and make political spending transparent.
When it was Durbin's turn to ask a question of Oberweis, he pressed the GOP state senator about whether he supports the tea party's opposition to using federal money to build highways, and the possible loss of construction jobs in Illinois as a result of said opposition.
"I'm not in the tea party," declared Oberweis before noting that he thinks the conservative grassroots movement has had a "generally positive" effect on politics. He said he likes the emphasis on limited government and lower taxes.
The opponents sounded off on a range of hot-button topics including President Obama's proposal to equip and train moderate Syrian rebels to combat the spread of ISIS in Syria and Iraq—Durbin shot down Oberweis' critique that U.S. troops shouldn't have been pulled out of Iraq in the first place—as well as immigration reform, an issue which has plagued Oberweis for years. (In 2004, he courted controversy during a failed bid for U.S. Senate when he aired an ill conceived commercial casting undocumented immigrants as villains who are taking over middle-class jobs.)
Apologizing for the infamous campaign-derailing ad, Oberweis said "it did not communicate the right message" and conveyed his support for giving undocumented children an easier path to citizenship while cracking down on adults with criminal track records. As for those who have no committed no crimes, "They should apply for citizenship and go to the back of the line."
Durbin, as well as the Trib's editorial board, appeared to balk at Oberweis' remark that federal immigration reform would result in "blanket amnesty" for immigrants.
Asked about his hardline stance on corporate inversions—Durbin has crusaded in recent weeks to prevent an exodus of corporations departing Illinois for greener tax pastures—the Senate Majority Whip went on the defense against critics including Oberweis who accuse him of being a bully.
He said he told Walgreens that it would be better for business in the long term if they stuck to their American roots rather than going overseas to "avoid tax responsibility." Oberweis pressed Durbin on why he hadn't earlier sought to reform state tax code to ensure companies wouldn't want to leave Illinois in the first place.
"I favor tax code reform," proclaimed Durbin, blaming Senate filibusters as the reason for the hold-up.
Speaking of taxes, things got real below the belt when the the paper raised the subject of Oberweis' dual residency—his wife lives in Florida, which has has no state income tax—and questioned why he had not disclosed his most recent returns. While Durbin suggested Oberweis "may not be paying Illinois state income taxes," the latter affirmed that he has to pay "more" but did not provide further details.
When the conversation turned to Oberweis' pitch to raise the Medicare eligibility age to 67, Durbin told his opponent to "get out, meet some of these people" who need that healthcare coverage to survive. Striking back, Oberweis he's been the one on the ground talking to constituents, notably in the South Side.
"I'm sure they're looking for the first Oberweis ice cream store (to open) in the South Side of Chicago," sniffed Durbin.