The statewide races in Illinois defy explanation unless one subscribes to the view that Illinois politics is down and dirty and crooked. Should Republican candidates Mark Kirk and Bill Brady be worried? Absolutely! Considering the fact that it was the liberal Chicago political mafia that gave us Barack Obama in the first place, what would be greater poetic justice than to defeat the Democrats in Illinois?
For Governor, incumbent Democrat Pat Quinn assumed the office after the impeachment of whats his name. For an incumbent Governor, he faced serious trouble getting his party's nomination but eventually beat out Dan Hymes by less than 8,000 votes out of a total of 915,000 cast in the Democratic primary. Even closer was Bill Brady's victory in the Republican primary. In a crowded field, he beat his nearest competitor by less than 200 votes of 767,000 votes cast and became the nominee with a little over 20% of the vote. The latest polls have Brady up by six points although the race has been back and forth.
In classic Illinois style, as the General Election nears, the race has gotten nasty. Quinn has accused Brady of casting votes in the state Legislature that benefitted his real estate development company. Brady has denied the conflict of interest allegations. Regardless, the most daunting task facing the next Governor is the impending $13 billion state budget deficit. While Brady offers to cut spending and grow the tax base by job creation, Quinn is arguing for an increase in the income tax along with surgical budget cuts. In fact, he is arguing that Brady is targeting educational cuts.
The economy of Illinois is not in great shape. It is not as bad as that of Michigan or Ohio, two other comparable upper midwestern states, but that may be enough of an impetus to shift this race. In fact, the budget problems in Illinois are eerily similar to those of New Jersey in 2009 when a Republican ousted the incumbent Democratic Governor. And Chris Christie has stumped for Brady in Illinois of late. The main difference is that despite being a state legislator, Brady, at times, does not seem to understand the intricacies of the budget whereas Christie hit the ground running. Still, given the similarities, voters should vote against the guaranteed tax increases of Quinn, alleged ethical questions aside.
In what could be a close race for the seat formerly held by Obama, Illinois political dynamics are playing their usual role. On the Democratic side is Alex Gianoullis, a Chicago banker squaring off against Republican 10th District Congressman Mark Kirk. Earlier this year, the federal government seized the bank owned by Gianoullis, which should be strike one. Then it was revealed that the bank made $20 million in loans to reputed mobsters. Mobsters in Chicago? That should be strike two. But the scary fact is that this race is a dead even tie as I write this.
This is a top notch fight. Kirk represents a Democratic leaning district in the shadows of Chicago and has done so for ten years. In short, the Republican Party believed they had the ideal candidate who showed strength in key swing districts. As of October 7th, the undecideds were starting to break, but evenly for each candidate which is good news for Kirk. However, in the ensuing week it would appear a greater proportion broke for Gianoullis thus creating the tie that now exists.
That banking problem of Gianoullis should have been the slam dunk for Kirk except that he pulled a Blumenthal and basically embellished his resume. Everyone knows their stances on domestic issues as Kirk is certianly more moderate than staunch conservative and everyone pretty much concedes that Kirk would win a national security debate against Gianoullis. Therefore, the race essentially boils down to an issue of character, trust, and ethics. Both candidates have tarnished reputations here. For money, an embellished resume does not rise to the level of Gianoullis' very questionable banking escapades. But then again, this is Illinois.
And already we see the start of the end game. This race will be decided by two factors in my humble opinion. First, how many dead citizens will show up to vote in Chicago? How many citizens whose address is a vacant lot will show up at the polls? Kirk has said he is going to dispatch poll watchers to key precincts and the Gianoullis campaign has labeled them "goon squads" out to intimidate black voters. He countered that the Democrats would also send out their own poll watchers. Except Kirk has a smaller area to watch- Chicago- than Gianoullis- basically the remainder of the state. Additionally, Kirk is making an issue of the lateness of absentee ballots being mailed to servicemen overseas, a constituency that should support Kirk. Although this has happened in other states, given the penchant for voter fraud in the state, it takes on added importance.
A second, and I think overlooked, factor is the influence of third party candidates in the Senate race. Green Party candidate LeAlan Jones is pulling about 4% of the vote. He also happens to be black. How well he does in Chicago could pull votes away from Gianoullis. If I were a Republican in Illinois, I would be putting up placards for Jones with his picture all over Chicago. There is no way Kirk will win this huge population center that normally decides elections for Democrats so why not let the Green Party candidate siphon votes away by virtue of his color? Maybe a little too "Karl Rove" for some, but anything to overcome the expected voter fraud in Chicago, I say....
In the House races, Democrats currently hold 12 of the 19 seats from Illinois. Eight are safely Democratic leaving four of interest. Of the 7 Republican seats, six are safe with one- the 10th District being vacated by Kirk- likely to fall to the Democrats as Daniel Seals leads Republican Robert Dold by 8 points. The 10th comprises some of Chicago's northern suburbs and is basically Democratic. In all honesty, Republicans probably conceded the seat in exchange for one in the Senate.
Of the four contested Illinois Democratic districts, perhaps only Melissa Bean in the Eighth will prevail. This is also part of the northern suburbs of Chicago although it slants slightly more to the right than Kirk's 10th district. Bean voted for all of the big Obama legislative initatives besides being a co-sponsor of Card Check legislation, thus drawing the support of organized labor. Put another way, Bean is a flaming liberal. However, except for 2008 with Obama at the top of the ticket, Bean has never pulled 60% of the vote in her elections to Congress. This year she goes up against Joe Walsh, a teacher and TEA Party activist. How she performs this year in this environment will determine her future political success and the 8th District in general moving forward. Still, given her electoral history, a Republican upset is not totally out of the picture. Unfortunately, Walsh is seriously underfunded compared to Bean in an expensive television market.
The most likely pick up for the Republican Party is in the 11th District which stretches from the southern Chicago suburbs in the east to north central Illinois. This latter area is beginning to enter traditionally conservative areas. The District is rated +1 Republican by the Cook PVI. With a mixture of urban and rural areas and a low minority population, the demographics favor the Republican opponent, Adam Kinzinger. In fact, Kinzinger has opened up an average of 14 point lead in the six polls I have seen thus far in this race. Hindering Halvorson's chances, the incumbent Democrat, is her votes for all the major Obama initiatives thus far. Conversely, Kinzinger has received the endorsements of Tim Pawlenty, Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin, and the Chicago Tribune- all fairly diverse politicians indicating broad-based appeal. Halvorson's only chance is to motivate the eastern parts of this district to vote, but it is really too late in the campaign. If she hasn't done it by now, she won't do it in the last two weeks.
Another possible pick up is in the 14th District cur held by Bill Foster. Located in northern Illinois, again demographics favor the Republican challenger Randy Hultgren. In limited polling data thus far, in fact, Hultgren maintains a 7-point lead on Foster. Foster's voting record is slightly more moderate than the more endangered Halvorson in that he did vote against cap-and-trade reflecting the more conservative nature of his district. Besides Hultgren, he has to fight against some electoral facts of the district. Most importantly is the fact that before his election in 2008, this district had been in Republican hands from 1949 to 2008. And despite the large Hispanic population in the district, they alone cannot catapult Foster to re-election. Hence, it would appear that this will most likely be a Republican pick-up also.
Finally, there is the 17th District currently held by Democrat Phil Hare. Located in west central Illinois and running along the Missouri and Iowa borders, this district is rated +3 Democratic on the Cook PVI. It is also one of the most obviously gerrymandered districts in the country. With a nice mixture of urban-rural population and a low minority population, this should favor Republican Rob Schilling even if the political atmosphere was different this year. Hare has proven himself an unabashed liberal voting, according to the Chicago Tribune, the Democratic Party line. In fact, Hare was one of the leading proponents of a public option in Obamacare. More disturbing, however, is his comments during the health care debate that should and has provided great sound bites for the Schilling campaign. For example, there is this gem when asked about the constitutionality of health care reform: "I don't worry about the Constitution on this one." Or when he quoted the Constitution as guaranteeing a "right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." As most grade schoolers know, that line is in the Declaration of Independence, not the Constitution which may explain why he doesn't care about it. And this one: "The $13 trillion public debt is a myth..." Well, he needs to talk to some people in the Treasury Department or the CONGRESSIONAL Budget Office. Not to mention the fact that Hare has embellished his Vietnam War record.
Conversely, Schilling has received endorsements from a variety of news organizations in the state. In Schilling, the Republicans get a unique mix in a candidate. He is a business owner, worked in the financial services industry and, this is the weird one, was a union official. If Hare succeeds in this race, then something is seriously amiss in this gerrymandered district. If nothing else, Hare appears unhinged in his thinking and if the voters of the 17th District send him back to Congress, then they are unhinged. Thus far, in limited polling, Schilling leads by about an average of 5+ points. He needs only replay and replay again footage of Hare's more outrageous remarks in order to mantain that momentum.
In conclusion, Bill Brady, given the similarities between this race and the 2009 race in New Jersey, should prevail as Governor. We all know what happened in Jersey to Jon Corzine. For Senate, given the ethical questions surrounding Alex Gianoullis and his bank, Mark Kirk's alleged ethical questions seem miniscule. Should Kirk lose this race somehow to yet another crook from Illinois, the Republican Party needs to challenge the results if the voting is somewhere in the 100,000 vote or less range. A good start would be in Chicago. Additionally, Republicans should pick up three House seats with a possible fourth is everything breaks right, but I believe definitely three seats. There is a reason Obama is making trips to his adopted home state. Should Kirk win this election, it will be a huge psychological defeat for Obama and the Democratic Party. And I really believe they will stop at nothing to ensure Gianoullis wins. But in the end, my gut instinct tells me that given how closely this race will be watched, on November 3rd, a Republican will occupy the Senate seat formerly held by Obama. I believe that except in the Chicago area, the anti-incumbent sentiment that exists in the Nation is also present in the vast parts of Illinois. And I believe that by voting a Republican into this seat currently held by Roland Burris who was appointed by Blago, they will be closing the book on a very embarrassing part of Illinois political history. Special note: whoever wins the election will be seated in December during the lame duck Senate session, not in January.