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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.

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