Senator Mike Ditka?

Drudge says former Chicago Bears (and New Orleans Saints) head coach Mike Ditka will announce that he plans to seek the US Senate seat from Illinois, with a 9:30 press conference this morning. So far, I can’t find confirmation.

Chicago Sun-Times columnist Scott Fornek thinks Ditka is crazy to want to do it but some think the ‘Democrats are shaking in their boots’ over facing the popular figure.

Does Iron Mike know what kind of game he could be getting into? That is more or less the question a top Washington Republican was planning to ask Mike Ditka. Virginia Sen. George Allen, head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee and son of a Hall of Fame coach himself, flew into Chicago Tuesday to personally huddle with Ditka, one day after the Bears legend said he was thinking about running for the U.S. Senate. “Sen. Allen is planning on meeting with Coach Ditka tonight in Chicago to discuss the level of thought that Ditka has put into the race and the implications that that would have on the life that he lives right now,” a GOP strategist in Washington said Tuesday.

No matter what Ditka decides, a growing number of Illinois Republicans are warming up to the idea that Ditka might — might — be willing to step in to replace GOP Senate nominee Jack Ryan, who resigned over allegations he once took his wife to sex clubs.

CK Rairden, writing in something called Washington Dispatch, says Dikta would be the GOP’s “Number 1 draft pick.”

Diana Ditka has said her husband would be nuts to run for the U.S. Senate. “I’m trying to talk him out of it,” she told the Chicago Sun-Times. Although, I know if he ever did something like that and he won, he’d be very good at it — except Mike doesn’t hold things back. He’d be criticized a lot for his comments.”

That’s an understatement. Ditka is as politically incorrect as one gets. And that’s a good thing. Iron Mike would take no gruff from anyone in or out of the Senate. If Ditka does enter the race and becomes the junior Senator from Illinois a debate with his Democratic colleagues might go something like this, “Senator Ditka, I believe you should rethink your position on this issue.†Ditka would give his patented icy stare to whomever dared utter such nonsense and say, “So what?†It’s hard to imagine Mike Ditka backing down from Ted Kennedy or Tom Daschle or any other democrat on any issue and any attempt to embarrass Iron Mike would only increase his popularity. He would run as a conservative and use his massive statewide popularity and straightforward style to his advantage. Mike Ditka knows how to work the media like a pro. Just like when he coached, he would be a reporters dream, providing sound bites galore for each issue. But unlike his coaching days, it will be tougher to fire Ditka if he would run and win. His popularity would soar with conservatives with each quip at the democrats. The cliché of “Mike Ditka says what he means and means what he says†fit’s the tough guy image of Iron Mike perfectly.

This is a unique long shot opportunity for the GOP to retain a seat in the US Senate that seemed definitely lost less than a week ago. If Mike Ditka runs, he would by no means be a lock, but he would be more than competitive against Democratic State Senator Barack Obama, bringing instant celebrity, and a populism message that would deliver excitement to the race. His honesty and straightforwardness would be a welcome refreshment in a jaded political climate and Ditka would revel in the media attention. Turnout would likely increase dramatically in the state if Ditka runs. It will also play to his advantage that the election is less than four months away as he would be hard to pigeonhole on any issue. And if he did get in any trouble, Ditka̢۪s quick and biting wit and blunt, honest answers could easily bail him out.

Both democrats and republicans adore the former coach of ‘Da Bears. Fortunately for the GOP he may just become their number one draft pick by this weekend.

Several big name sports figures have gone on to hold major public office. Some have done quite well while others have bombed. One wonders whether Ditka would take the job seriously, as Bill Bradley did as a Senator and Arnold Schwarzenegger seems to be doing as governor of California, or whether he’d be another Jesse Ventura. Certainly, though, the smarts and tenacity that led Ditka to a Hall of Fame career as a tight end for the Dallas Cowboys and then a Super Bowl ring as head coach of Da Bears would serve him well in politics.

For other news and views, see:

Update (1219): I still haven’t seen word of a press conference, but this isn’t a good sign:

Illinois Leader – Ditka Storms Out Before Meeting

This morning in downtown Chicago, Mike Ditka left before a secret meeting with IL GOP decision makers began, angered about the media being tipped off. Ditka was to meet with members of the IL GOP State Central Committee and to speak via conference call with state and national level Republicans as he considered whether or not to fill the vacancy left when former candidate for U.S. Senate Jack Ryan announced his intentions to withdraw on June 25.
Word leaked out to the press, and Ditka reportedly was angered when met by the media as he arrived. The former Chicago Bears coach exited the meeting before it began, and left in his black Escalade, obviously upset.

Ditka met last night with U.S. Senator George Allen, who flew into town to discuss the possibility of the former tight end filling the Ryan vacancy. Allen heads the Republican Senate Committee and is the son of football coach George Allen, who Ditka played for at one time. Internet journalist Matt Drudge inaccurately reported this morning that an announcement concerning Ditka’s possible U.S. Senate run would be made at 9:30 am.

Ditka’s willingness to take on the candidacy may be in doubt now.

Update (1321): Washington Dispatch – Report: Ditka Angered by Media Leak

In a snapshot of what may be to come if he decides to run for the US Senate, Mike Ditka is already upset with the media. The Illinois Leader is reporting that Mike Ditka was angry once he arrived at what was to be a secret meeting with Illinois GOP leaders. The Leader goes on to say that once he arrived and saw the media reporters waiting, he hopped back in his SUV and sped off.

This is not a surprise, as Ditka loves to be in charge and complete control of the situations he is involved with. And while that won’t play well in Washington DC, it will play very well in America’s heartland. It’s impossible to call at this point, but his candidacy seems to be getting closer to fruition. If he does run–expect daily fireworks.

Many campaign slogans are emerging, my favorite so far…

Mike Ditka: A tough guy for tough times.


Update (1950): The boomlet appears ready to go bust. From Drudge–who hasn’t been very reliable on this story, to put it mildly–we now have this:

FLASH: IN, OUT, IN, OUT, IN… DITKA IS OUT? Champaign, Illinois radio station WDWS is reporting that Mike Ditka will not be running for Senate. Morning personality and station manager Stevie Jay spoke with Ditka in the last hour and Ditka told him that he had too many other commitments. Ditka is a regular guest of Stevie Jay’s during the football season… Developing…

Given Ditka’s outburst earlier, he may have realized that his temperament just isn’t suited to politics. Even for someone who’s been under media scrutiny most of his life, running for Senate is a whole different ballgame than playing or coaching football.

Update (7/15 8:31): The boomlet is over. Ditka has announced he’s not running.

Chicago Sun-Times – Game over: Ditka won’t run

“Iron Mike” Ditka broke the hearts of Illinois Republicans on Wednesday, telling them he will not suit up and get in the game to take on Democratic Senate nominee Barack Obama. “There was a moment when I said, ‘God, I’d like to take this on,’ ” Ditka said. “And then I said, ‘You know, put your head on straight and think about what you’re getting into right now.’ ”

Ditka, 64, said he was not ready to give up his private business deals or undergo the scrutiny that would come with being a political candidate or U.S. senator. “I don’t get headaches, and yesterday I got a headache,” Ditka told reporters late Wednesday. “I had so many phone calls, I didn’t know what was going on. It’s just that I’m not used to that since I got out of coaching. I’m not used to the scrutiny, and I don’t know if I would handle it well or not. I don’t know how I would react under scrutiny. I don’t know how I would react on the Senate floor if I got in a confrontation with somebody I really didn’t appreciate — or maybe didn’t appreciate me.”

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Mark Hasty says:

    Tom Osborne’s done a nice job of disappearing into the House.

  2. Ursula says:

    Last I heard, he was waiting until the end of the week before making a final decision. But it all seems to be an act of desperation by the Republican Party. Sure he’s popular and has great name recognition, but Dikta has never before expressed an interest in politics. If he was, he wouldn’t be doing commercials for casinos and another viagra wanna be drug. Having said that, if Dikta does run, I think that motor mouth of his will get him in a lot of trouble. So can’t wait! Thinks should get really interesting here in the good state of Illinois.

  3. Randy says:

    I got this off the Drudge Report with a link (that does not work for me) to

    “UPDATE: Ditka storms out of meeting…”

  4. Paul says:

    Actually Ditka is fairly political and had been for years.

  5. Joseph Marshall says:

    If he is “out”, it’s actually kind of a shame.

    From the perspective of genuine democracy, the most pernicious aspect of our political life is the degree to which it is dominated by “professionals” from the Guild of Lawyers and the rotating clique of the corporate board rooms.

    One of the most refreshing faces in American politics recently was Jesse Ventura. Admittedly, he didn’t generate earth shattering accomplishments, but he didn’t leave his state in ruins, either.

    In the same way the background of Arnold the Governator in California is, in my opinion, one of the most positive things about him. (You may by now have guessed that though I am quite Liberal, I am not one of your painfully priggish “All Things Considered”, sort of Liberals.)

    There is no reason to believe that political capacity or talent is the exclusive perogative of any single profession. Ronald Reagan, the second team actor, had it in spades. Ross Perot, the billionaire CEO, lacked it all the way down to the soles of his expensive hand-made shoes.

    Doctrines and agendas aside for the moment, I’d prefer our politicians to be talented, on the whole, and if Ditka truly has the talent (which doesn’t mean he has to “make nice” to all and sundry), more power to him.

    There are surely already enough doofuses in public office whom any of us could name–though the content of our lists might be somewhat different.