Illinois Senate Race

By Lisa Femia, PPN

On Sunday October 10th, Illinois Senate candidates State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias (D) and U.S. Representative Mark Kirk (R) met for their first debate on “Meet the Press.”  The focus of the debate?  Not policy issues, as one would expect, but rather issues of personal integrity.  The race for the seat formerly held by President Barack Obama has been a close and controversial one.

These are not the first complications to be associated with this seat since Obama’s resignation. On December 9, 2008, the FBI arrested Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, the man responsible for filling Obama’s seat, on charges of corruption, including claims that Blagojevich attempted to sell the appointment.  Nonetheless, Blagojevich appointed Democrat Roland Burris to the seat. Burris was seated despite much controversy about the legitimacy of this appointment. After suffering exceedingly low approval ratings and accusations of perjury, Burris decided not to run for reelection this year.

This leaves the seat currently in the middle of a bitter struggle between the Democrat Giannoulias and Republican Kirk. Both men have their problems.  Kirk admitted to exaggerating claims about his time as an intelligence officer in the Navy Reserve, repeatedly stating inaccurately that he had received the prestigious U.S. Navy’s Intelligence Officer of the Year Award.  The award was, in fact, given to his entire unit and not just to Kirk. Since this information emerged, Kirk’s lead in the polls has steadily declined and the race is essentially tied.  The controversies of both candidates have left many Illinois voters dissatisfied with their options and the close poll results have reflected voters’ uncertainty.

Giannoulias has struggled with a conflict surrounding his family’s bank, Broadway Bank. While Giannoulias was a loan officer, the bank issued loans to organized crime figures. In Sunday’s debate, Giannoulias insisted, “We didn’t know the extent of that activity,” but many remain unconvinced.

In terms of public policy, the candidates are aligned with the views of their respective political parties.  Giannoulias praises Obama’s federal stimulus program while Kirk, at the debate, asserted that it “has largely failed.”  Kirk supports the continuation of the Bush tax cuts that are due to expire at the end of the year.  Giannoulias, on the other hand, feels that the government cannot afford to maintain tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.

Furthermore, the men disagree about immigration reform. Though both support reinforcing border security, but Giannoulias is also is in favor of offering illegal immigrants already in the U.S. a path to citizenship. Concerning gay marriage, Kirk is opposed to legalization, although in the past he has made more votes for gay rights in his career than many other Republicans.  Giannoulias, on the other hand, fully supports marriage equality.

Since former President Bill Clinton’s presidency, the state of Illinois has been solidly Democratic. However, Kirk represented the northern Chicago suburbs and thus appeals to a swing vote in the state. It will be interesting to see, on November 2, whether Illinois will stick to its Democratic tradition.  After several years of controversy surrounding it, who will finally win Obama’s former seat?

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