CHICAGO – A day after jumping into the Illinois Senate race, two-time presidential hopeful Alan Keyes (search) ripped into Democratic rival Barack Obama (search), saying his views on abortion are "the slaveholder's position."
The conservative former diplomat said Obama's vote against a bill that would have outlawed a form of late-term abortion (search) denied unborn children of their equal rights. Both candidates — one an outspoken conservative and the other a favorite of party liberals — are black.
"I would still be picking cotton if the country's moral principles had not been shaped by the Declaration of Independence," Keyes said. He said Obama "has broken and rejected those principles — he has taken the slaveholder's position."
Obama, who has been basking in national celebrity since delivering the keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention, suggested Keyes is outside the moderate mainstream of state Republicans.
Asked specifically about the phrase "slaveholder's position," Obama said Keyes "should look to members of his own party to see if that's appropriate if he's going to use that kind of language."
Keyes, who is from Maryland and lost two Senate races in that state, on Sunday accepted the GOP nomination to replace primary winner Jack Ryan (search), who dropped out of the race in June over embarrassing sex allegations.
Under federal law, Keyes has until Election Day to establish Illinois residency. Monday afternoon, the State Board of Elections officially listed Keyes as the GOP candidate, and his campaign said Calumet City, in Chicago's southern suburbs, is his new Illinois home.
Obama said he voted against the late-term abortion ban as a state senator because it contained no exception to protect the life of the mother. He noted that Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and federal appeals Judge Richard Posner, both appointed by President Ronald Reagan, had voted to strike down laws banning late-term abortions.
Obama said he didn't question the sincerity of those who are deeply concerned about abortion, but he said he believed there are many other issues on the minds of voters.
"As I travel around this state, I don't get asked about gay marriage, I don't get asked about abortion," Obama said. "I get asked, 'How can I find a job that allows me to support my family.' I get asked, 'How can I pay those medical bills without going into bankruptcy.'"
One issue of importance for Illinois right now is delays caused by congestion at O'Hare International Airport. Mayor Richard M. Daley has been pushing for expansion of O'Hare, backed by Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., but opposed by Sen. Peter Fitzgerald, R-Ill., whose announced retirement launched the scramble for his seat.
Asked about O'Hare on WBEZ radio Monday, Keyes said he had not yet developed any position on the issue of expansion.
"The problem must be addressed," Keyes said. He promised to "try to reach a conclusion that is in the best interests of the economic future of the state and the quality of life" of those who live in the area.
In the same interview, he defended his belief that gay marriage is wrong, brushing aside a suggestion from an interviewer that sexual preference might be biologically determined.
"We as human beings cannot assert that our sexual desires cannot be controlled," Keyes said. He said such a claim would "consign us to the real of instinctual animal nature — and we are not there."
The race between Keyes and Obama sets up the first U.S. Senate election with two black candidates representing the major parties and all but assures Illinois will produce only the fifth black U.S. Senator in history.