Submitted By Todd on February 2nd at 12:07pm
President Obama is heading to New Hampshire on Tuesday, but his eye is on Illinois. The first primary contest of the midterm election season is taking place in Mr. Obama’s home state, where voters are choosing Republican and Democratic nominees in races for governor, the United States Senate and several Congressional seats. The White House has a stake in every campaign across the country, but in no place is the investment more personal than Illinois. Not only will Mr. Obama’s former Senate seat be filled, but the outcome of the contests will be interpreted — accurately or not — as a test of strength for the Democratic Party in the months ahead.
Neither the president nor the first lady, Michelle Obama, made endorsements in the races, but aides said the Obamas mailed in their absentee ballots. So, too, did many other Chicagoans who are working in the administration, including Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff, and David Axelrod and Valerie Jarrett, both senior advisers to the president. A leading Democratic contender in the Senate race is Alexi Giannoulias, the state treasurer and basketball-playing friend of the president’s. Many Democrats in Washington, including several who work in the White House, worry that Mr. Giannoulias may not be the party’s strongest candidate in a challenging political year.
Hoffman has raised more than $2 million for the race, but recent polling shows him trailing by double digits. All of that polling, however, was conducted before the Giannoulias family bank was forced to enter into a consent decree with federal and state regulators to avoid collapse. The bank has also caused problems for Giannoulias because it provided loans to an organized crime figure and convicted political fixer Tony Rezko.
His race appeared to be tightening with David Hoffman, a former inspector general for the city of Chicago. The winner of the Democratic primary is expected to face Representative Mark Kirk, who has held an edge in polling over several Republicans in the race.After the earth shattering win of Scott Brown in Massachusetts, can the cardiovascular system of conservatives handle a GOP win in the President's home state?Kirk is a heavy favorite on the GOP side, despite some early questions about just how much the GOP base would support someone with a centrist record in the House. Developer Patrick Hughes hasn’t been able to put together the kind of funds needed to give Kirk a real scare, and a crowded field should benefit the congressman on Tuesday. Kirk doesn’t appear terribly concerned with the primary, as he had $3.2 million in unspent campaign funds in the bank as of Jan. 13.Yet even with the special election in Massachusetts still fresh in everyone’s mind, here is one warning: The contests in Illinois, with their original and often dramatic story lines, may hold limited value in divining the outcome of the midterm elections. But the results will almost certainly be seen as at least some type of referendum on Mr. Obama, whose presidential campaign triggered the upheaval in the political hierarchy of Illinois, leaving behind an uncertain future for Democrats in his home state.