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DNC Chief Kaine Puts His Weight Behind Illinois Candidates

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine parachuted into Illinois on Wednesday to emphasize the national party’s commitment to candidates running in tough statewide races this fall.

Kaine acknowledged the Senate race between state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias (D) and Rep. Mark Kirk (R) “is actually a very tight race.” But the former Virginia governor, who joined Illinois officeholders at the sweltering fairgrounds here, said Giannoulias’ race is a priority for national party leaders.

“It’s very important, and it’s the presidency that makes it a little more so,” Kaine said of the seat once held by President Barack Obama and now occupied by appointed Sen. Roland Burris (D).

“But this is something where 90 or 120 days ago it was looking really tough, but this race is looking better and better. The momentum is going Alexi’s way,” Kaine said. “We feel like it’s going to be very, very tight, and so the White House is committed and Sen. [Dick] Durbin obviously and the whole team is committed.”

Democratic officeholders from Gov. Pat Quinn to Attorney General Lisa Madigan and Giannoulias, who are all running statewide this year, acknowledged the political environment was made more difficult Tuesday when a federal jury returned a guilty verdict against former Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) for lying to the FBI. But each sought to pump up the Democratic faithful at back-to-back rallies, trying to make the case, as Giannoulias did, that “pay to play is a bipartisan disgrace. Let’s move forward.”

Kaine, in a brief interview following an afternoon rally, said, “I’ve been to 40 states, and nobody asks about the Rod Blagojevich trial.” He advised Democratic hopefuls to focus on the economy and praised Giannoulias for launching a four-day “jobs tour” through central and southern Illinois.

“I think he’s doing what he needs to do,” Kaine said of Giannoulias, who in recent polls either is tied or holds a razor-thin advantage over Kirk for the Senate seat. “We need to pull together, the Democratic volunteers and Organizing for America. He’s doing what he needs to do, but it’s going to be a field effort.”

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