Candidates battle tooth and nail in Illinois Senate race

The only thing sure about the replacement for retiring US Sen. Adlai Stevenson (D) of Illinois is that this state's new senator will come from the downstate community of Belleville.

Illinois Secretary of State Alan Dixon, the Democratic nominee, and Lt. Gov. David O'Neal, the Republican candidate, grew up within two miles of each other.

Mr. Dixon, a 30-year veteran of state politics and one of the top vote-getters in Illinois history, is favored to win. But according to the latest polls, his lead over Mr. O'Neal, a pharmacist who first ran for public office -- country sheriff -- 10 years ago, is shrinking.

Both candidates have been highly visible, with a series of four debates and at least three joint appearances.

Despite sharing a hometown, there is no feeling of neighborliness between the two men. The level of the campaign has not been particularly high or issue oriented.

Just who started the mudslinging -- which ranges from accusations about pressured contributions to sloppy spending haits -- is unclear. But neither candidate has declined to participate, and many voters here say it has made both unattractive to them.

O'Neal, an aggressive campaigner who stresses his newness to politics, paints his opponent as a man who has let his election bids be controlled by the legendary Chicago political machine. He says Dixon, who spent more than $1 million on his Democratic primary campaign, pressured the employees in his stage office for contributions. More than half gave, and the contributions averaged $ 100.

One of O'Neal's TV ads questions how Dixon as a lifetime politician could have become a millionaire.

Dixon dismisses the O'Neal accusations and says any personal wealth he has came from work as an attorney and from real estate investments.

Though he insists he has never attacked the "character, integrity, or positions" of his opponent, Dixon suggested early in the campaign that as sheriff, O'Neal effectively forced his employees to contribute 4 percent of their salaries to his campaign coffers. O'NEal denies this, attributing such tactics to the sheriff who preceded him.

Another charge, launched by the Chicago Tribune but attributed by O'Neal to "Al's pals," suggested that O'Neal in effect charged taxpayers for many of his political expenses by billing the state for his use of a state airplane for mixed official and political trips. O'Neal counters that his campaign committee was billed for more than $13,000 of the expenses and that he is willing to pay anything more owed.

"We're squeaky clean," insists O'Neal campaign spokesman Bill Greener. He says that the lieutenant governor's official staff and the campaign staff have gone to great lengths to differentiate charges on everything from postage to photocopying.

O'Neal, who has had campaign help from such national GOP luminaries as Howard Baker, John Connally, Gerald Ford, and Henry Kissinger, is a conservative Republican who was the surprise winner in a three-way GOP primary. The man expected to win was former Illinois Attorney General William Scott, who at the time of the vote was awaiting the verdict of his trial on income tax evasion charges. He later was convicted.

O'Neal views tend to parallel those of presidential contender Ronald Reagan and the Republican platform on economic issues, the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) , abortion, and the Salt II treaty.

Both candidates favor a balanced federal budget But O'Neal alone supports a constitutional amendment to require it. Both also favor gun control, but Dixon alone would ban "Saturday night specials."

Describing himself as a centrist, Dixon supports ERA and, like his opponent, is personally opposed to abortion, favoring strictly limited federal financing of it. He does not support a constitutional amendment to overturn the 1973 Supreme Court decision favoring abortion rights.

Though the latest statewide polls give Dixon an eight-point lead over O'Neal, close to 17 percent of Illinois voters are still undecided, and expected apathy among Cook County's Democratic voters could trim the margin further.

O'Neal, who by some political assessments here rode to victory on the coattails of Illinois Gov. Jim Thompson, could gain the margin he needs if there is a light Democratic turnout and a strong Reagan vote.

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