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New York Times today had an article about Phil Crane v.s. Melissa Bean race in Illinois.

Copyright (C) The New York Times
Aging Champion Faces a Young Challenger

Published: September 3, 2004

PALATINE, Ill., Aug. 28 - For three decades Representative Philip M. Crane has been a fixture at Republican conventions. As a fire-breathing antitax crusader who ran for president in 1980 and loves being called the most conservative member of the House of Representatives, he can always be counted on to rouse the party faithful.


Mr. Crane, however, decided not to attend this year's Republican convention in New York. He is facing what some consider a surprisingly strong challenge from a businesswoman three decades his junior, and chose to stay home to campaign.

On Friday Mr. Crane and his Democratic opponent, Melissa Bean, both trolled for votes at a street fair in Palatine, a rapidly growing city 30 miles west of Chicago. Their styles were quite different.

Mr. Crane strolled slowly through the crowd, greeting a handful of people. He spent a few minutes at a hardware store that is one of the town's oldest businesses, shook a few hands, and then was gone.

An hour later, Ms. Bean was pressing herself on one voter after another, promising that she would be a vigorous new voice in Congress. She left each one with a small bag of jelly beans to help them remember her name.

Although the two candidates disagree on virtually everything, neither spends much time discussing issues. This race appears to have settled into the archetypal confrontation between aging champion and young challenger. Mr. Crane, 73, says his long service in Washington makes him more qualified; Ms. Bean, 42, says it is time for a change.

"If Phil Crane were not in this race, we wouldn't even be talking about it because it would be totally safe for the Republicans," said Amy Walter, who monitors House races for the Cook Political Report, in Washington. "He is the issue. I still give him the advantage, partly because of demographics and partly because it's just so hard to lose as an incumbent. But Melissa Bean is definitely making a race of it. The question now is how far she can take this."

Mr. Crane was elected in 1969 to fill a vacancy left when an ambitious congressman named Donald H. Rumsfeld resigned to take a post in the Nixon administration. Mr. Crane is now vice chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee and the longest-serving Republican in Congress.

When Mr. Crane entered the House, the Vietnam War was raging and platform shoes were in style. Newspapers covered Woodstock, Chappaquiddick, Stonewall and the Concorde - terms that may be only vaguely familiar to many of today's voters.

Some critics of Mr. Crane say that as he has risen through the ranks in Washington, he has lost touch with his district, coming home rarely and failing to focus on local issues. Their votes helped give Ms. Bean 43 percent of the vote in 2002. .

"I had no money, and lots of people didn't even know I was running," she said in an interview. "This time it's a whole different ball game. People know who I am and what I'm doing.'' In recent months, Ms. Bean has nearly kept pace with Mr. Crane's fund-raising pace and has picked up endorsements from well-heeled national groups like Emily's List, which supports female candidates.

Several of Mr. Crane's longtime supporters, however, scoff at suggestions that he is vulnerable. "Where they're getting the idea that this race is close is beyond me," State Senator Wendell E. Jones said.

Some people at Friday's street fair said they thought Ms. Bean had a chance to win.

"She has the strength to go against him," said Mark Thieme, a 52-year-old postal worker. "There are more young people in the district these days. For a lot of them, Crane is a pretty distant figure."

A few feet away, though, Bob Geary, 45, a hotel security director who was sharing a hot dog with his 7-year-old son, said he would stick with Mr. Crane.

"Being in the House of Representatives as long as he has brings money to this state," Mr. Geary said. "That's exactly the reason I'm voting for him."

Although Mr. Crane has made a career of denouncing deficit spending, he has amazed some people, both here and in Washington, by supporting President Bush's large deficits. That has led Ms. Bean to criticize him as "a deficit hawk who turned into a dove," but he makes no apologies.

"We've had special circumstances," Mr. Crane said. "The war on terror is a high priority. We have to take care of that first; then we'll get back into balance."

During the 1970's Mr. Crane was a leader of the nascent conservative movement that emerged from Barry Goldwater's 1964 presidential race. He alienated some of his comrades, however, by running against Ronald Reagan in the 1980 Republican primaries. Other conservatives like Newt Gingrich, Jack F. Kemp and Trent Lott pushed him aside, leaving him "embittered and unfocused," according to the Almanac of American Politics.

In the 1990's Mr. Crane seemed to be fading both politically and physically, but he regained some of his vigor after a stay at an alcohol rehabilitation clinic in 2000. To the quiet consternation of some Illinois Republicans, he insists he has given no thought to retirement and hopes to serve in Congress for years to come.

"Time flies when you're having a good time," he said.

Originally posted to DuPageCountyLiberal on Fri Sep 03, 2004 at 06:37 PM PDT.

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