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Keyes challenges Obama for Illinois Senate seat

Contest will be first-ever between 2 black candidates

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Alan Keyes
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America Votes 2004

CHICAGO, Illinois (CNN) -- Despite "a strong personal resistance," two-time Republican presidential candidate and Maryland resident Alan Keyes said Sunday that he will run as the GOP's candidate for the U.S. Senate from Illinois.

Keyes, 54, a conservative talk show host and lecturer, will replace Jack Ryan, who dropped out of the Senate race in June after allegations emerged from divorce records that he took his ex-wife to sex clubs.

Keyes had been critical of former first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton's run for Senate from New York in 2000, saying he "certainly wouldn't imitate her" by running for office from a state where he didn't live.

But Sunday, he said he changed his mind after reviewing the voting record of his opponent -- Barack Obama, a state senator and considered by some a rising star in the Democratic Party.

"I'll tell you by the time I got through the records, I was convinced that somebody had to run against Barack Obama," he said.

As a result, "I must leave the land of my forefathers in order to defend the land of my spirit, of my conscience and my heart -- and I believe that that land is Illinois."

Keyes sought the Republican presidential nomination in 1996 and 2000. His entry into the race sets up the first Senate contest between two black candidates in U.S. history.

Obama delivered the keynote address last month at the Democratic National Convention. He is considered the prohibitive favorite to win the seat now held by Sen. Peter Fitzgerald, a Republican who is stepping down after one term.

Obama issued a statement welcoming Keyes to the Senate race.

"As Mr. Keyes begins to travel the state, he will see that families here are concerned about quality jobs, making health care more affordable and ensuring our children get the best education possible," Obama said.

"And Illinoisans want a Senate candidate who will attack the problems they and their families face rather than spending time attacking each other. I invite him to join me in such a race."

The state GOP offered Keyes its nomination last week after a string of potential Republican candidates, including former Chicago Bears coach and player Mike Ditka, turned down entreaties to run.

Under state law, Keyes would have to move to Illinois before the election to be eligible to run.

Keyes, who also has run two unsuccessful Senate campaigns in Maryland, criticized Obama's support for gun control and abortion rights, and his opposition to the war in Iraq.

But he said Obama "does seem to be somebody who wants to have a serious discussion of these issues." He said he would be willing to debate the Democrat in up to six forums, as Obama had sought with Ryan.

He conceded he faces hurdles running as an outsider, but he noted that not even Abraham Lincoln, perhaps the most famous Illinoisan, was a native of the state.

He bristled at comparisons to Clinton, whom he said picked New York "as a vehicle for her ambition," and said he had rejected previous calls to run for office based simply "on personal ambition and opportunity."

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