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Illinois Goes to the Polls

First Primaries of 2010 to Set House, Senate Nominees

Voters will head to the polls for the first primaries of 2010 today in Illinois, where a Senate race and a few competitive House races have been overshadowed by intraparty bickering in the gubernatorial contest.

State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias (D) and Rep. Mark Kirk (R) are expected to win their respective primary contests for President Barack Obama’s former Senate seat, but according to public polling released a week ago, the number of undecided voters is still quite high.

Tom Jensen, the director of Public Policy Polling, said he thought the undecided voters would break for the frontrunners, Giannoulias and Kirk, because those are the more familiar names in the race.

“I think that you’ll see most of the undecideds move towards the frontrunners,— Jensen said. “I wouldn’t be surprised to see Alexi even in the mid-40s, Kirk, I think could win with at least 60 percent.—

There’s no doubt that Kirk’s standing in the primary is more certain than Giannoulias’, and the question is not whether the GOP Congressman will win the nomination, but rather by how much. If Kirk breaks 65 percent or 70 percent today, he will be able to claim he has serious momentum in the race.

But on Monday, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee set the expectations much higher for Kirk in a memo: “Given there has been no consolidation of Kirk’s five primary opponents, we expect them to split any anti-Kirk vote with a maximum vote getting capacity of 20 percent; leaving Kirk with the potential to earn 80 percent of the GOP vote,— the memo reads. “For historical context with a similar dynamic, Jim Edgar trounced Jack Roeser in 1994 with 75 percent of the primary vote.—

Brian Walsh, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, blasted the DSCC’s public relations offensive.

“If the Democrats’ bar for candidates to avoid the ‘loser’ label is 80 percent, then I look forward to hearing what they’ll have to say about their own nominee in Illinois on Wednesday morning,— Walsh said. “Clearly this isn’t a very forward-thinking spin effort. The reality is that Republicans have a real pickup opportunity in the president’s backyard this November, thanks to the Democrats’ tainted record of corruption and ethical lapses in Illinois.—

On the Democratic side, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that former Chicago Inspector General David Hoffman could win the Senate primary. Giannoulias had some bad publicity leading up to the primary because regulators have recently raised serious questions about the management of his family’s local bank, which was one of the biggest bullet points on Giannoulias’s résumé when he ran for state treasurer four years ago. If Giannoulias breaks 40 percent today or has more than a single-digit lead over any of his opponents, it will have to be considered a solid performance.

But Hoffman, who has run on a reform platform, may be gaining. A Public Policy Poll, which featured similar results to other public polls last week, gave Giannoulias the lead with 32 percent, followed by Hoffman with 20 percent. Former Chicago Urban League President Cheryle Robinson Jackson had 18 percent, and about 27 percent of the voters were undecided. A little-known fourth Democrat in the poll, attorney Jacob Meister, dropped out over the weekend and endorsed Giannoulias.

The same poll gave Kirk the Republican primary lead with 43 percent and had real estate developer Patrick Hughes at 9 percent, several other candidates with less than 5 percent and 39 percent undecided.

Both Democrats and Republicans, however, emphasized that the Senate race has been significantly overshadowed by contentious gubernatorial primaries in both parties. Illinois voters and politicians appear to have a special interest in the gubernatorial race after disgraced former Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) was ejected from office last year because he allegedly tried to sell the vacant Senate seat, among other ethical charges.

The gubernatorial candidates in both parties have been sucking up airtime in Illinois, leaving little time or space for Congressional candidates to break through the noise. Jensen said polling showed that Illinois voters are far more familiar with the gubernatorial candidates.

“I think they’re just getting drowned out,— Jensen said. “It’s just one of those situations where there’s just so much going on, those that are new to the political situation in Illinois … it makes it hard to break through.—

It’s a similar case for the candidates running the competitive primaries for Kirk’s open House seat in the wealthy North Shore suburbs of Chicago. The district covers part of the expensive Chicago media market, where many of the gubernatorial candidates have dominated the airwaves.

In the Democratic primary, the 10th district nomination fight is between well-funded state Rep. Julie Hamos and marketing consultant Dan Seals, who has the benefit of name identification from his 2006 and 2008 bids against Kirk. Even though Seals did not run any television advertisements, he may still have the upper hand in the primary because of the short campaign season.

Three Republican candidates are looking to succeed Kirk: State Rep. Beth Coulson, and businessmen Dick Green and Bob Dold are contending for the GOP primary. Given that neither Green nor Dold have run before in the district, the race is difficult to predict.

Outside Chicago, two Republicans are vying for the nomination and the chance to challenge Rep. Bill Foster (D). Attorney Ethan Hastert, the son of former Speaker Dennis Hastert (R), and state Sen. Randy Hultgren are running for the GOP nomination. Hastert, however, is expected to have the upper hand because of his father’s name identification.

The polls open at 6 a.m. and close at 7 p.m. in Illinois, which is on Central Standard Time.

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