Peter Fitzgerald is gone and forgotten, but in
1998, when he won his first and only term as U.S.
senator, he accomplished a daunting feat: He
carried Downstate by 328,264 votes, getting 62.4
percent of the vote and the five the Collar
Counties by 164,442 votes (62.4 percent) while
losing Cook County by 394,161 votes (35.3
the historic prescription for a Republican
victory: Win Downstate and the Collar Counties by
enough to offset Cook County's habitual Democratic
helps to have a flawed Democratic opponent. A
fiscal and social conservative, the bland and
uncharismatic Fitzgerald was thought unelectable,
but incumbent Carol Moseley Braun's antics and
questionable ethics spelled her doom. Being a
black liberal Chicagoan, she had negligible appeal
outside of Cook County. Fitzgerald won statewide
by 98,545 votes.
the past decade every Democrat, flawed or
otherwise, has won statewide, with gigantic
margins in Cook County and dwindling Republican
margins elsewhere. Rod Blagojevich won Cook County
for governor by 468,974 votes in 2002 and by
508,605 votes in 2006, and Barack Obama won Cook
County for president in 2008 by 1,141,288 votes.
In fact, Obama won the Collar Counties by 171,814
votes and Downstate by 75,067 votes.
U.S. Senate in Illinois this year race is
developing into a hybrid of 1998. Both candidates,
Republican Mark Kirk and Democrat Alexi
Giannoulias are, at best, flawed, and, at worst,
execrable. Voters feel as though they're choosing
between a kick in the groin and a poke in the eye.
a 10-year North Shore congressman, has come to be
perceived as a serial liar, utterly devoid of
principle, with no moral compass. In short, a
crass opportunist and an ideological windsock.
Giannoulias, the one-term state treasurer, is
perceived as a clueless idiot, utterly lacking in
judgment, whose performance as an officer at his
now-defunct family bank was beyond inept. In
short, out of his league.
candidates' shortcomings -- Kirk's persistent
exaggerations of his military record and
Giannoulias's incompetence as treasurer and as a
banker - mean that voters must choose the least
unacceptable candidate. A plethora of media ads
reinforce that theme: I'm not perfect, they say,
but my opponent is worse.
date, Kirk and Giannoulias have each spent more
than $2 million. Neither has captured voters'
imagination. The latest Illinois Fox
News/Rasmussen poll gave Obama a 46 percent/46
percent approval/disapproval rating, had
health-care reform at 45 percent/45 percent, and
put Kirk ahead by just 42 percent-40 percent, with
a hefty 18 percent of the voters undecided. A
Chicago Tribune poll has Giannoulias ahead 38
percent-36 percent, a CNN/Time poll had
Giannoulias ahead 43 percent-42 percent, and a
Suffolk poll had Kirk up 42 percent-41 percent.
Clearly, there is resistance to each candidate.
Green Party candidate is LeAlan Jones, who is
black. If he gets 3 to 5 percent of the vote, or
more than 125,000 votes, Giannoulias loses.
other states, Republican candidates are attempting
to "nationalize" their campaigns, making
it a referendum on Obama and the Democratic
Congress. In Illinois, it's the obverse.
Giannoulias is embracing the president, pledging
to be a pro-Obama senator, supporting Obama's
liberal agenda and running television ads
featuring Obama. The only way Giannoulias can win
is to make the election a referendum on Obama.
a very calculated risk," observed a Chicago
Democratic politician of Giannoulias's strategy.
"A lot of people love the president, but a
sizable amount hate him. Alexi is counting on a
big black vote" in Cook County, but
"that could be offset by a big anti-Obama
the Democratic Party has imploded, beset with
scandals and incompetence, and although Illinois'
unemployment rate hovers above 10 percent, the
"I love Barack" strategy is
Giannoulias's only plausible path to victory. The
president is still popular in Illinois. The Obama
haters, Tea Partiers and conservatives will flock
to the polls, and Kirk will get their vote by
default -- not because they like him, but because
they want to repudiate Obama.
embracing Obama, Giannoulias hopes to solidify his
black base and entice the marginally dissatisfied
2008 Obama voters to reaffirm their faith and vote
1998 Braun beat Fitzgerald in Chicago by
552,729-145,540, getting 79.1 percent of the vote,
and she got 315,890 of her votes in the 20
black-majority wards. In 2008 Obama beat John
McCain in Chicago by 919,447-147,532, with 86.1
percent of the vote, and he got 453,152 of his
votes in the black wards. The difference: This is
not a presidential year, so turnout will be down
by a quarter. Giannoulias will not replicate
Obama's or Braun's vote among black voters, but he
cannot win unless he gets 300,000 votes in the
the five-candidate primary, Giannoulias had
near-monolithic support from white Chicago
committeemen and Downstate county chairmen. Yet he
finished with a weak 38.9 percent of the vote
(352,202 votes), getting 35.7 percent in Chicago,
37.4 percent in the suburbs, 41.5 percent in the
Collar Counties and 44.3 percent Downstate. The
304,757 votes (33.7 percent) drawn by David
Hoffman, cast by anti-Machine liberals, will not
necessarily gravitate to Giannoulias.
is Kirk's firewall. Fitzgerald won the area by
822,031-494,037, a margin of 327,994 votes, which
negated Braun's black vote. McCain lost Downstate
by 75,067 votes. Republican Bill Brady will win
the area by close to 400,000 votes over Pat Quinn,
and he will drag Kirk with him.
states such as Kentucky and Nevada, so-called
"crackpot" Republicans are competitive
because they're running anti-Obama campaigns in an
anti-Obama environment. Illinois is not such an
environment, which is why Kirk is struggling. He
can't frontally attack Obama. As a veteran office
holder and q resume embellisher, he can't posture
as an "outsider." He is devoid of
charisma. And he is distrusted, if not despised,
by Republican conservatives.
prediction: Statewide turnout will be around 3.4
million, well down from 5.5 million in 2008 -- a
2.1 million drop-off, the bulk of which will be
Obama voters. McCain got 2,031,179 votes,
which is the Republican base; that's 300,000 more
votes than Fitzgerald got in 1998. Obama got
3,419,348 votes, which is double the 1998 Braun
arithmetic is simple: 1.7 million is the magic
number. Kirk wins if he pulls 84 percent of the
2008 McCain voters to the polls; Giannoulias wins
if he entices just half of the 2008 Obama voters
to the polls. That validates Giannoulias's
strategy. To be sure, 10 to 15 percent of the
Obama "independents" will opt for Kirk,
which should ensure his election.
unflawed Kirk would have won easily. Instead, he
will win narrowly -- by fewer than 50,000 votes.
District (North Shore suburbs: east Lake County
and northern Cook County): Kirk is vacating this
seat, and Democrat Dan Seals, who lost to Kirk in
2006, getting 46.6 percent of the vote, and in
2008 with 47.4 percent of the vote, is running
ahead of Republican Bob Dold, a pest control
company owner and a novice candidate who may not
fit the "moderate" Kirk mold. Kirk was
fiscally conservative in the Senate, but he
supported abortion rights, gay rights and gun
district "went for Clinton, Gore, Kerry and
Obama," said Seals campaign spokesperson
Aviva Gibbs. "It is not a Tea Party district.
It is not a socially conservative district. Seals
represents (the district's) core values." The
campaign's internal polling shows Seals leading by
13 percentage points, Gibbs said.
won the district 181,071-114,035 in 2008, while
Kirk won by 153,082-138,136. Seals spent $3.5
million, fervently embraced Obama and unleashed a
torrent of television ads tying Kirk to George
Bush, yet ran a stunning 42,895 votes behind
Obama. Kirk ran 39,074 votes ahead of McCain.
into this election, Seals was viewed as damaged
goods, a two-time loser. He won the primary by 959
votes. But the 10th District might just be
counter-cyclical, going against the flow.
has re-invented himself. He now supports the
extension of the 2001 and 2003 Bush tax cuts, he
opposes Obama's Afghanistan troop surge, he
opposes any further stimulus spending, and he
claims the costs of "Obamacare" are not
sustainable. He rips Dold as an extremist,
accusing him of flip-flopping on abortion.
has unabashedly supported the Obama agenda,"
said Kelly Klopp, Dold's spokewoman. "He's
trying to portray himself as independent. Voters
won't buy it."
district has 514 precincts -- 293 in Cook County
and 221 in Lake County. In 2006, in a turnout of
202,207, Kirk won Cook County by 12,358 votes and
Lake County by 1,393; in 2008, in a turnout of
291,258, Kirk won Cook by 16,498 and lost Lake by
prediction: The battleground is New Trier,
Northfield and Palatine townships. Turnout will be
200,000. Seals' base is 90,000 votes. He must peel
off more than 10,000 past Kirk voters. "Our
polls show that 16 percent of (district) Kirk (for
U.S. Senate) voters are backing Dan," Gibbs
has "localized" the race, making it a
choice between himself and Dold, not a referendum
on Obama. A Dold win would be an upset.