Giannoulias, Kirk win nods to fight each other for Obama's old Senate seat

Illinois state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias withstood some late drama and held on to win the Democratic primary for President Barack Obama’s old Senate seat on Tuesday.

The 33-year old former Obama basketball buddy led former Chicago Inspector General David Hoffman 39-34 with 86 percent of precincts reporting. Chicago Urban League President Cheryle Robinson Jackson was third with 20 percent.

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Hoffman has conceded.

Giannoulias will now face Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) in the general election, after Kirk easily dispatched developer Patrick Hughes in the GOP primary, 57-19.

"From day one, our campaign's been about helping people, we fought hard, defied the Washington insiders - talking about real solutions to create jobs, how to crack down on wasteful spending and end special interests that have controlled the debate in Washington long enough," Giannoulias said.

Not all is well for Giannoulias, though, who faced plenty of questions this past week over his family’s bank. It was reported a week ago that Broadway Bank needs federal and state help to avoid collapse. The bank has also made loans to some unsavory characters, including convicted political fixer Tony Rezko.

It is expected to be a major issue in the general election, when more attention will be paid to the details of the situation and when Giannoulias’s opponent will have more money to drive the issue home.

Democrats may also have to deal with the continuing drama surrounding former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who is set to stand trial on corruption charges this summer.

Party operatives have worried privately that Giannoulias wouldn’t be as strong a candidate as they hoped to land in Obama’s blue home state. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) last year tried to recruit state Attorney General Lisa Madigan for the race even after Giannoulias was already a candidate.

It’s a tough state for the GOP, but Kirk was its first choice, and he has the kind of centrist voting record that could play well in the general election.

Republicans were heartened that Kirk’s support for cap and trade and some other centrist positions didn’t seem to hurt him too badly in the primary. While he appeals to independents in the general election, the GOP will also need him to turn out the base.

Kirk sought to capture both voter blocks in his victory speech.

“It takes a thoughtful, independent leader to earn the people’s trust in every election,” Kirk said. “We know that one political party cannot hold all the answers – and that one political party should 
never hold all the power."

Most political analysts consider the race a toss-up. A recent poll for a Democratic firm showed Giannoulias leading Kirk 42-34 in the general election, while most other polling has shown the race neck-and-neck.

Republicans insist they are happy to run against Giannoulias, rather than a reputed reformer like Hoffman. A first-time candidate for elective office, Hoffman was outraised by Giannoulias $3 million to $2 million and suffered from a short primary campaign that put a premium on name recognition.

Jackson appears to have hurt Hoffman’s candidacy by dispersing the anti-Giannoulias vote. As the lone black candidate in the field, she was able to take a significant portion of the vote without raising much money for the campaign.

Reps. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) and Danny Davis (D-Ill.) endorsed Jackson, while all the major newspapers endorsed Hoffman. Giannoulias had the backing of Reps. Jan Schakowsky, Luis Gutierrez, Phil Hare, Bill Foster and Mike Quigley, as well as major unions and environmental 
groups.

Kirk had the backing of every Republican in the state delegation except Rep. Don Manzullo (R-Ill.), who stayed neutral.

Sen. Roland Burris (D-Ill.), who was appointed by then-Gov. Blagojevich to replace Obama, opted not to run for a full term.