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Post your opinions on the November races

Sen. Moseley-Braun struggles against well-heeled opponent

Her high negatives make re-election a struggle

By Bruce Morton/CNN

CHICAGO (October 19) -- When Democratic Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun of Illinois appeared before Jesse Jackson's Rainbow/PUSH coalition on Chicago's South side recently, the crowd was enthusiastic.

"We love Carol! We love Carol!" her supporters chanted.

Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun  

But there were some empty seats too. The senator is in trouble.

When she won in 1992, women were active and angry, many of them, over the Senate Judiciary Committee's treatment of Anita Hill.

But Moseley-Braun's term has been marked by controversy, including trips to Nigeria to visit the late dictator Sani Abacha, campaign finance questions and a blowup in which she compared columnist George Will to a Klansman.

"I mean this very sincerely from the bottom of my heart: He can take his hood and put it back on again, as far as I'm concerned," Moseley-Braun told WFLD.

"That was terrible. I lost my temper, that's exactly what happened," she said later.

"She's contributed greatly to her own problems because she's had a series of controversies that have built on each other to the point where her negatives today are nearing 50 percent, and it's very hard for anyone to win an election with those kind of negatives," said Democratic consultant David Axelrod.

Moseley-Braun's opponent is conservative Republican multimillionaire Peter Fitzgerald, who will turn 38 this week. It's an odd campaign.

In an ad, Fitzgerald says, "After six years of scandal and controversy, Carol Moseley-Braun resorts to fabrication, continuing a barrage of negative ads."

Fitzgerald never speaks during his TV ads. He answered the Chicago Tribune editorial board's questionnaire, but asked the newspaper, which has endorsed him, not to print the answers on its Web site, because, he says, Moseley-Braun would distort them.

"She picks out these little things, distorts it and then puts it in as a citation on her distorted attack ads," Fitzgerald said.

"He is in (a) kind of a candidate-protection program," said Axelrod. "They've created a new identity for him on television while he stays out of sight."

Moseley-Braun calls her opponent a "stealth candidate."

What Fitzgerald talks about is mainly Moseley-Braun.

"She's spent more time in Nigeria over the last six years than she has in Peoria," he says.

So Moseley-Braun really is what the election is about?

Peter Fitzgerald  

"Absolutely," Fitzgerald says.

Moseley-Braun ran an ad acknowledging mistakes, hoping to turn the debate towards issues. "I know I've made mistakes and disappointed some people, but I want you to know that I've always tried to do what's best for Illinois," she said in the ad.

In their most recent debate, she attacked on abortion; Fitzgerald opposes it except to save the life of the mother, with no exceptions for rape or incest.

"You can't be pregnant, but believe me when I tell you, the idea of carrying somebody's, some rapist's child is anathema to most women," Moseley-Braun told Fitzgerald in one debate.

Fitzgerald talked about Moseley-Braun and her visit to Nigeria.

"When she was in Nigeria, according to news reports, she praised General Abacha, and she dined in Port Harcourt with the military governor..." Fitzgerald said.

"Now that is not true, Peter," Moseley-Braun replied. "I'll stop telling the truth about your record if you'll stop telling lies about mine."

But changing the focus of the campaign is hard for her because Fitzgerald is heavily outspending her.

"This is a man who is a wealthy banker, who did not hesitate to spend $7 million of his own money, a record, just to win the primary," said Bob Crawford, WBBM-AM's political editor.

"I mean, you can buy an election," Moseley-Braun said. "With enough money, I can make myself Ivana Trump."

President Bill Clinton has done a fund-raiser for her, and the first lady did an education event with her.

"We need Carol Moseley-Braun in there holding their feet to the fire to make sure we get those teachers in this school and other schools in Illinois," Hillary Rodham Clinton said.

It may not be enough. Six years ago, one observer here says, a lot of women thought they were electing Oprah, a perfect person. They elected a human being, who has made mistakes.

"I think that Carol Moseley-Braun really should be replaced," one woman said.

"She comes across a little like she's done some stuff, you know, a little corrupt," said one man.

Her hope is for a heavy black vote.

"The question now is turnout, how do you get a big turnout?" says Professor Robert Starks of Northeastern Illinois University. "That assumes that you'll get people like the Reverend Jesse Jackson going out, beating the bushes."

It may not be enough.


Monday, October 19, 1998

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