CHICAGO – Republican U.S. Senate candidate Jack Ryan (search), who traded his career as an investment banker to become a high school teacher, now faces an even tougher transition — overcoming questions about his personal life in a closely watched national campaign.
Ryan, 44, used his telegenic looks and more than $3 million of his own money to jump-start his first-time candidacy, ultimately overwhelming a crowded field Tuesday that included just one candidate who had held office.
A key factor in his victory were TV commercials highlighting his background: growing up in an affluent suburb of Chicago, getting an Ivy League education and making millions as an investment banker before quitting to teach at an all-black, all-boys parochial school on the South Side of Chicago.
"He's got a great resume, a great story. He's a rich guy, but he looks like a rich guy with heart," said Christopher Mooney, a political science professor at the University of Illinois at Springfield.
Ryan's strong early lead in the polls was recently tested, when Republican leaders and rivals declared concern that records from Ryan's divorce with actress Jeri Ryan (search) contained information that could damage him in a general election.
Ryan maintained the records pertain to child custody and are sealed to protect his 9-year-old son. Ryan said his message about jobs, quality education and fighting terrorism have not been overshadowed by the controversy.
"People know my background and the issues I'm running on. We keep coming back to the same themes of how I intend to make America and Illinois a better place," he said.