updated 8/3/2004 10:47:01 AM ET 2004-08-03T14:47:01

With just over three weeks to go before the deadline to put a name on the November ballot, Illinois Republicans are hopeful they can soon come up with a candidate to take on Democratic state Sen. Barack Obama.

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GOP leaders were to gather in Chicago on Tuesday to discuss potential replacements for Jack Ryan, who abandoned his campaign nearly six weeks ago after embarrassing allegations about his sex life became public.

Key party leaders said Monday they still hadn’t settled on one name and new names were being added to the mix. Several members of the Republican State Central Committee even said they didn’t even know how many possible candidates would appear at their meeting Tuesday.

“I think there’s half a dozen people that are serious candidates,” said state Sen. Dave Syverson, treasurer of the Illinois Republican State Central Committee. “I think we ought to discuss them and go over them, and when it’s over with, have a chance to come up with a couple of finalists, bounce their names off of Washington and other key leaders of Illinois.”

The 19-member committee scheduled a meeting Tuesday in Chicago to interview potential candidates. State party chairwoman Judy Baar Topinka said last week that a candidate would be chosen then to replace Ryan, the GOP primary winner. But Syverson said Monday there wasn’t a consensus building around a single contender.

Just three months to campaign
Whoever took the role would have only three months to raise cash and campaign against Obama, the keynote speaker at last week’s Democratic National Convention. Several party stalwarts and well-known GOP figures, from former governors to former Chicago Bears great Mike Ditka, have already declined.

State Sen. Kirk Dillard a member of the committee who considered but decided against being the replacement candidate, said he was not leaning toward one person to run for the seat of retiring GOP Sen. Peter Fitzgerald.

“I have an open mind and I don’t see any cohesiveness for any candidate,” he said.

Former presidential candidate Alan Keyes’ name was the latest to surface Monday as a potential candidate. Keyes, who was appointed ambassador to the United Nations by President Reagan, ran for the GOP presidential nomination in 1996 and 2000. He also ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate from Maryland in 1988 and 1992.

“People are talking to him to see if there is something there,” Syverson said.

Others who are considered serious contenders for the seat are Liz Gorman, a Cook County board member; primary runner-up Jim Oberweis, a wealthy dairy owner; Chicago attorney John Cox, who lost a 2002 Senate primary; retired Air Force Gen. John Borling, who also ran and lost in the primary to Ryan; and farm radio commentator Orion Samuelson.

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