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Keyes to the Castle

The Republican candidate for Senate in Illinois gets locked out of Madison Square Garden.

12:58 PM, Sep 1, 2004 • By KATHERINE MANGU-WARD
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New York

LAST NIGHT, Ambassador Alan Keyes cast a shadow over the proceedings at Madison Square Garden. Literally. As he stood at a small lectern in a grubby room across the street from the convention venue, C-SPAN played on a projection screen behind him. Every time Keyes gestured to punctuate a particularly vital point, he blocked out portions of the image. Kay Bailey Hutchison's nose gets lopped off, and wraiths flit across the serious face of Stand Up and Holla winner Princella Smith.

Right about the same time that Smith takes the stage to declare herself "AGAINST forces that want to degrade our generation and call us Generation X" and announce that "we reject that label. We are Generation X-ample," Keyes is wrapping a particularly elegant line of argument. As always, he speaks off the cuff and flawlessly. Keyes believes that "we make war on an evil that is universal in character." He seems almost gleeful when he observes, "that statement is a moral one, isn't it?" But then he gets serious again--"the chilling, terrifying truth of our time" is that "the evil that we fight is but the shadow of what we do." And then, before the audience even knows what has happened, he whirls on to elaborate that the war on terror, the fight for traditional marriage, the banning of partial-birth abortion, and the campaign to limit judicial activism on religion in public life are all part of a massive "clash of moral wills" in which "we must be on the side of life."

By this time, the self-described "Republican Wing of the Republican Party" is eating out of his hand. The National Federation of Republican Assemblies is hosting Keyes as part of a tribute to Ronald Reagan. They're in residence at the Herald Square room of the New Yorker Hotel all week. They have a program of events nearly every hour on the hour, but Keyes is a highlight. He was supposed to show up yesterday, but he canceled at the last minute. He was an hour late today and the small room is packed, but a glance at the adoring upturned faces shows that no one begrudges his tardiness.

Keyes forges onward. He talks about sex: Of heterosexual couples he says, "Their action is haunted-forever haunted-by the child."

He offers tips for sorting out gender confusion: Raises his eyebrows and, if such a thing is possible, looking a bit naughty he says--"At the end of the day, you only know the truth by takin' a peek."

He talks about his decision to oppose Barak Obama for Senate in Illinois: He knew he had to run, he said, when a friend pointed out to him that "twenty years from now when he is waltzing into the White House, won't you be sorry you didn't stop him when you could?" Keyes tears into the conventional wisdom that Obama is "a rising star." At the Democratic convention, says Keyes, Obama gave "the un-speech." It was "a truly masterful work of disguise" using "verbiage" and a "nice and affable manner" to conceal a lack of substance. And worse, Keyes thunders, though he is campaigning as a moderate, Obama is really more radical than Sen. Ted Kennedy. "I don't care how he smiles. I don't care how he charms," Obama "stands for doing what Christ would never do."

Keyes is optimistic about his race in Illinois, but he's polling at less than 30 percent and won't reveal how much money he has raised--never a good sign. The convention is an opportunity to highlight statewide races as well as national ones, but RNC has never quite known what to make of Keyes and they're staying mum on Illinois this week.

The room smells like mustard from the plate of sandwiches that must have been sitting out since lunch, and the carpet is stained. Keyes gave the best speech of the night, and less than 100 people heard it. Though he was right across the street, Keyes was still a world away from the Madison Square Garden podium.

Katherine Mangu-Ward is a reporter for The Weekly Standard.