Illinois has become inhospitable to Republicans. In 1988 George H.W. Bush carried Illinois 51-49. In 1992 and 1996 Bill Clinton carried it 49-34 and 54-37. In 2000 Al Gore carried it 55-43. To win in 2004, Ryan probably will have to run far ahead of President Bush. Asked how he plans to do that, he mentions ``the ideas of John Locke.'' If that is plan A, what, you may well wonder, is plan B?
Actually, he favors the basic Republican agenda -- limited government, personal responsibility, strong national defense. But he is, above all, a moralist who hopes to get the state exercised about the fact that 410,000 of its children -- 270,000 of them in Chicago -- are in failing schools, as such schools are defined by the No Child Left Behind law.
What, he asks, will become of these children if they reach adulthood and ``all they have is their brawn and their hands''? When he returns to walk the spotless halls of Hales Franciscan, crowds of boys embrace him, and are rewarded by being asked what their SAT scores are, and being told they are not high enough. The SAT prep course was recently canceled. For Ryan, doing something about that takes immediate precedence over campaigning.
His campaign bears watching because of what it will say about the ability of a Republican to make inroads among African-Americans. If he cannot do it, it really is hopeless.
Win or lose, this probably will not end happily. Ryan has a three-to-one lead over his nearest rival in polling of Republicans likely to vote in the March 16 primary. But in the general election he probably will learn the futility -- with few exceptions -- of asking African-Americans to vote for any Republican, regardless of his views or record, and he probably will lose in this increasingly Democratic state.
Or he will win and, being intelligent and impatient, will hate life in the Senate, where grandees like Ted Kennedy, for whom public schools are distant rumors, get away with blocking school choice for poor inner-city children. The story Ryan is trying to write -- doing well in his campaign, then doing good in Washington -- is too good to be true.