CHAMPAIGN — Following the furor over U.S. Senate candidate Todd Akin's comments on "legitimate" rape, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin says he feels better about Democratic chances to hold on to the U.S. Senate.
The Springfield Democrat was in Champaign on Tuesday evening to speak to more than 100 people at a fundraiser at the I Hotel and Conference Center.
He said Akin's statement on abortion "gives us a much better chance in Missouri. It was one of the Republicans' two top priorities to take away a Democratic seat now held by Claire McCaskill. And now we have a much better chance."
And Durbin predicted that Akin's comments could also hurt GOP vice presidential designate Paul Ryan, who is also a member of the U.S. House.
"He and Congressman Akin were allies on these issues. Now Mr. Ryan will have to answer a number of specific questions about his views on the abortion issue," Durbin said.
The Akin controversy steers the political discussion, at least for now, away from the struggling economy, Durbin acknowledged.
"It certainly does. Romney's choice of Ryan changed the subject from the economy and jobs to Medicare and the Ryan budget. And after a week of that, along came Congressman Todd Akin, and that changes the topic to the war on women," Durbin said. "I don't think this is what the Romney campaign had in mind leading up to their convention."
Durbin said the fact that he is holding fundraisers two years before his Senate term runs out doesn't mean he is running for re-election in 2014.
"It means that I certainly am looking at it seriously, because if you don't have money in the bank, you can't be taken seriously, but I'll also add quickly that most of the money I raise I'll be giving away," he said.
"When I'm not in my own election cycle, I keep very little of the money I raise and give most of it away to other candidates."
On other topics, Durbin said:
— He doesn't believe that David Gill, the Democratic candidate in the 13th Congressional District, which includes Champaign-Urbana and Springfield, is too liberal for the district.
"I don't find his views too far left, although I will concede that in the western part of the district, he has some work to do. It is a more conservative area," Durbin said. "But he has what I consider a commanding issue, and that is the issue of health care in this congressional district. He can speak to it unlike any other candidate in the state, as an emergency-room physician in Bloomington."
He said Gill "has the strongest downstate issue ... in this campaign. I'm completely committed to him, and I'm raising money for him and doing everything I can to help him."
Durbin supported Greene County State's Attorney Matt Goetten over Gill in the March primary election.
— Gov. Pat Quinn is "in a no-win situation" in trying to address the state's multibillion-dollar pension problem.
"The pension funds have been dramatically underfunded. And any effort to deal with it is going to spark controversy. But it has to be dealt with," he said.
He said he hasn't offered any suggestions to Quinn.
"All I can say is that when it came to federal and congressional pensions, we ended up moving from a defined benefit to a defined contribution plan, allowing one class of congressmen to opt in one direction or the other and, beyond that, that all future hires would be under the new system and it would be a defined contribution system," the veteran senator said. "But I'm not even sure that solves our problem in Illinois."
He said, as has Illinois Senate President John Cullerton, that the Illinois Constitution prohibits any reduction in benefits for state government retirees.
"The underlying issue here is that all of the current retirees, on a legal, constitutional and moral basis, have a very convincing argument. And those who are nearing retirement have an equally convincing argument," Durbin said. "The real question is, what about the future? What can we do now to make sure this problem doesn't get worse?"