Elections
Boxes are shown full of binders containing opposition research that Republican Jack Ryan planned to use in his short-lived 2004 campaign for U.S. Senate against then-Illinois state Sen. Barack Obama. (Photo: Grae Stafford / The Daily Caller) Boxes are shown full of binders containing opposition research that Republican Jack Ryan planned to use in his short-lived 2004 campaign for U.S. Senate against then-Illinois state Sen. Barack Obama. (Photo: Grae Stafford / The Daily Caller)  

The Jack Ryan Files: One man’s playbook for defeating state Sen. Barack Obama

Photo of Will Rahn
Will Rahn
Senior Editor
Jack Ryan Files

Editor’s note: The following report is the first in a Daily Caller series revealing the opposition research Republican Jack Ryan planned to use in his short-lived 2004 campaign for U.S. Senate against then-Illinois state Sen. Barack Obama.

CHICAGO — “Obama Research,” reads the front covers of 22 three-ring binders containing every ounce of opposition research prepared in 2004 by Republican Jack Ryan’s campaign in his effort to stop then-Illinois state Sen. Barack Obama from ever rising to the ranks of the U.S. Senate — and perhaps, by extension, to the presidency.

But Ryan’s campaign never made it off the ground, dragged to its knees by a Chicago Tribune-led lawsuit that publicly revealed Ryan’s messy 1999 custody proceedings with actress and ex-wife Jeri Ryan. Those documents showed that Jeri Ryan claimed her wealthy husband, a former investment banker, had brought her to sex clubs around the globe, which led her to fall in love with another man.

Jack Ryan’s presumed engagement in strange sexual activities with his own wife wasn’t a typical sex scandal, but it was enough to doom his campaign. Under bipartisan pressure to leave the race, and with collapsing poll numbers, he soon stepped aside.

Alan Keyes, a Maryland resident and stalwart social conservative, was chosen as his replacement, and Obama won the race in a landslide. Soon the future president was gracing the cover of weekly news magazines, promoted by the media as a transformative pragmatist who could bring a deeply divided nation back together.

What remains from Ryan’s doomed campaign is a time capsule of information about President Barack Obama, found in the many thousands of pages that make up Ryan’s opposition research. The Daily Caller has obtained that collection.

The little-seen information within the binders represents a comprehensive documentation of Obama’s voting record in the state Senate; his many political donors, endorsers and affiliations; a list of the known clients represented by the law firm where he worked; known details about Obama’s life derived from his books; and a litany of press clippings that include quotes from the Democrat dating back to 1992.

The information reveals what Ryan’s line of attack might have been, had he taken the chance to fight, and brings to light the most exhaustive study of Obama’s voting record before he came to Washington, D.C.

In the lead-up to the 2008 presidential election, supporters of then-Senator Barack Obama could point to press accounts of his time in the Illinois legislature as proof that he was, by nature, a bipartisan-minded pragmatist. But Ryan’s review of Obama’s time in Springfield reveals a more complicated picture, one of an ambitious and gifted political upstart unlikely to buck his party’s leadership on key legislation except when allying with the far left wing of the Democratic caucus.

From abortion to gun rights and anti-crime legislation, Obama, who from 1998 to 2004 represented one of the most diverse districts in what remains perhaps America’s most segregated major city, worked to serve the powerful constituencies and special interest groups that still dominate Illinois politics. An eloquent speaker and ever mindful of his public’s perceptions, he often voted “present” on bills where taking a position could hurt his political future, while staying loyal to the state’s entrenched Democratic machine.

“Barack Obama was [in 2008] presenting himself as some kind of a centrist reformer, and the truth of the state Senate voting record is anything but,” Eric Kohn, an Illinois based libertarian activist and former communications director for the Cook County GOP, told The Daily Caller.

“I mean, here’s somebody who never failed to vote with the far left, who cast a lot of votes that are questionable at best, from the ones that highlighted the votes about making things tougher on domestic matters, making things tougher for child sex offenders, the infant protection act — even if you’re somebody who’s pro-choice that is a pretty radical vote,” Kohn continued.

Mainstream media reports from the 2008 election tend to portray Obama as Springfield’s consummate bridge builder, a well-liked intellectual and reformer eager to reach across the aisle. A Wall Street Journal article published shortly after Obama announced his candidacy for president described him as “a lawmaker of lofty, liberal rhetoric who nonetheless pragmatically accepted bipartisan compromises that won over foes — and sometimes left supporters dissatisfied.”

“[H]e emerged as a leader while still in his 30s by developing a style former colleagues describe as methodical, inclusive and pragmatic,” The Washington Post also wrote at the time. “He cobbled together legislation with Republicans and conservative Democrats, making overtures other progressive politicians might consider distasteful.”