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Braun Seems Headed for Victory In Historic Illinois Senate Race

THE Illinois race for the United States Senate seat has the whiff of inevitability.

Democrat Carol Moseley Braun is vying to become the first black woman to serve in the Senate. Neither the attacks of her opponent nor her own missteps appear to have derailed her bid to make history.

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"She has kicked away a huge lead," says Richard Day, a political consultant based in Evanston, Ill. But "it looks now that it's Carol Moseley Braun."

John Jackson, a political science professor at Southern Illinois University, says Ms. Braun has been hurt by press reports of financial improprieties. But "she has survived" those charges.

According to a Chicago Tribune poll released recently, Braun leads Republican Rich Williamson 50 percent to 32 percent with 18 percent undecided. If those figures are correct, it will be very difficult for Mr. Williamson to overcome the gap in the remaining day of the campaign.

It has not been for lack of trying. Like other male Senate candidates facing women opponents this year, Williamson has hit Braun hard. He has attacked her record in the state legislature and tried to link her to black nationalists.

Conduct, a nonpartisan group that opposes racist campaign rhetoric, has censured the Williamson campaign three times for its tactics.

But Williamson's biggest opportunities have been handed to him by Braun's own missteps and her disorganized campaign.

A month ago, Chicago television station WMAQ raised questions about Braun's handling of a $28,750 royalty payment intended for her mother. There is no record that her mother, a Medicaid recipient who lives in a nursing home, reported the money to Medicaid authorities - a legal violation, since the money typically would help pay the nursing home bills.

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Instead, it went to Braun's personal bank account and was later divided between herself and two siblings. No one paid taxes on the money.

In her first televised explanation of the matter, Braun appeared to blame her mother and fared poorly, says William Grimshaw, a political science professor at the Illinois Institute of Technology.

Her subsequent explanations appeared inconsistent. Braun admits she mishandled the transaction and is prepared to pay any fines and back taxes.

Such charges would sink many campaigns, but Williamson has been unable to capitalize.

Part of his problem is that he is not well-known in the state. He has never run for political office before. He is best known for spearheading President Reagan's "New Federalism" initiative, which pushed several federal programs down to the state level.

Even many Republican women have backed Braun, says Paul Green, a political science professor at Governors State University in suburban Chicago. "They want to be part of the inevitability," he says.

Braun dismisses the campaign's historical significance. "I think people are going to elect the best qualified" candidate, she says.

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