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GOP Waits for Top Bean Challenger

Three months into her first term in office, Rep. Melissa Bean (D) still has a GOP bull’s-eye firmly on her back, even though Republicans appear no closer to determining whom their strongest challenger might be than they were on the day she was sworn in.

Still, party leaders remain confident that a top- tier race will materialize against Bean, who defeated 17-term Rep. Phil Crane (R) last year in a suburban Chicago district that favors the GOP.

While it is unlikely Republicans will eventually be able to clear the primary field completely, some within the party have hopes of settling on a consensus candidate sometime this spring.

So far, no such candidate has emerged. State Sen. Pam Althoff (R), considered a leading contender for the party establishment backing, said last month that she won’t run.

That leaves a short list of possible and likely candidates, but no clear frontrunner to take on Bean.

Although she has not yet publicly stated an interest in the 8th district race, businesswoman Teresa Bartels is the newest potential candidate to emerge. Some Republicans are excited that her profile as a moderate woman would match up well against Bean.

Bartels is a former executive for temporary staffing company Manpower Inc., and she has the ability to put some personal resources into the race.

Bartels is also a community leader and fundraiser who has been active in Chicago and the Midwest region for the United Way.

One GOP source called Bartels, who has met with Republican leaders to discuss the race, “a real shining star” in the party.

“Her business background and her activism in the community would make her a terrific candidate,” the source said.

Althoff’s decision to forgo the race leaves state Reps. Mark Beaubien and Bob Churchill as the lone legislators eyeing a matchup with Bean. Churchill and investment banker David McSweeney, who challenged Crane in a 1998 primary, are considered most likely to run.

Wealthy trial lawyer Al Salvi, who spent almost $1.5 million on an unsuccessful Senate bid in 1996, is also interested in the race. His wife, Kathleen Salvi, has also been mentioned.

In an interview Tuesday, Beaubien confirmed his interest in running but said he wouldn’t make any decision until the current legislative session adjourns at the end of May.

Beaubien said he disagrees with the effort by some party leaders to exert pressure on candidates to enter the race sooner rather than later.

They’re saying “we got to get a candidate. We’ve got to get them announced,” Beaubien said, repeating the sentiments of those officials. “I just don’t believe that. That’s a huge decision.”

Republicans would like to settle on a consensus candidate well before a self-imposed Labor Day deadline for getting serious candidates into the race.

Illinois’ December 2005 filing deadline is the earliest in the country, and candidates can begin collecting petition signatures for the March 2006 primary as early as this fall.

State GOP Chairman Andy McKenna was on Capitol Hill in early March and discussed the race with National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Reynolds (N.Y.) and members of the state’s GOP delegation.

NRCC spokesman Carl Forti said Tuesday that Bean remains “on top of the target list.” Even as President Bush lost Illinois by a landslide in the 2004 presidential election, he took 56 percent of the vote in the 8th district.

In an interview Tuesday, McKenna said interest in the race against Bean continues to grow. He said the field of prospective candidates is still very fluid and that a strong candidate could receive early party support.

“We’re encouraged that new and good people are continuing to express an interest in the race,” McKenna said. “The party is working with prospective candidates and has confidence that we’ll have a good nominee.”

For her part, Bean has spent her first months in Congress fattening up her depleted campaign coffers and compiling a moderate voting record that she believes reflects her constituents back home. She recently voted in favor of the measure requiring federal review of the Terri Schiavo case and against both the Democratic and Republican versions of the 2006 budget.

“The fact is she’s voting what she really believes and in a way that really represents the district,” Bean spokesman Brian Herman said.

Early estimates are that she raked in $400,000 in the first quarter of the year and will report $325,000 to $350,000 in the bank when fundraising reports are filed later this month.

Herman said her fundraising total “clearly indicates that she’s doing something right.”

“I think that ought to be something for anyone who’s thinking of challenging her to be thinking about,” he added.

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