Corruption accusations and uncertainty in the fight for President Obama’s former Senate seat

On February 2, candidates from both sides of the aisle will battle in the U.S. Senate primary in Illinois. The winners from each party will run against each other in November to fill the Senate seat previously held by President Barack Obama. Democrats hope to secure a strong candidate to defeat the likely Republican winner Mark Kirk. Corruption charges and a surging dark horse candidate cloud the predictions of the Democrats' primary results and create uncertainty for the party in November.

The likely Republican winner Mark Kirk, a moderate Republican, is no Tea Party puppet. Kirk boasts a middle of the road record and has been pro-choice and anti-guns—certainly an enticement to voters outside the traditional red constituency. The Republican has already emulated the line that made Scott Brown so popular, but with a name even more influential than Ted Kennedy. “This is not Obama’s seat, it’s the people’s seat!” Kirk rallied. That sentiment will absolutely continue throughout the campaign cycle along with easy attacks on the leading Democrat.

Democrat front-runner Alexi Giannoulias, the current state treasure, tops the polls, but his family’s Broadway Bank may prove problematic in the general election. Giannoulias, former vice president of the bank his father founded, came under scrutiny recently as government regulators demanded the bank accept federal oversight. Giannoulias received accusations that loans were made from Broadway Bank to Chicago’s political bad guys like Tony Rezko, a message that Republican Mark Kirk will absolutely use to derail Giannoulias in November. With growing fervor against establishment politicians and the financial sector, Republicans could consider a Giannoulias win a small victory, but the outcome on the Dem side is no certainty. David Hoffman is closing in on Giannoulias in the polls and would certainly reduce the Republicans confidence about November.

Democrat David Hoffman has inched closer and closer to Giannoulias since he began campaigning. With the primary tomorrow, it may be too little too late, but a recent poll shows many Illinois voters still undecided—a figure that keeps the Hoffman campaign hopeful. The 42 year old former inspector general boasts a squeaky clean record, especially in his role fighting corruption and mismanagement as IG in Mayor Daley’s Chicago. Before inspector general, Hoffman graduated from Yale Law school and had a clerkship for Chief Justice William Rehnquist. His background and messaging would prove challenging to his Republican opponent and might finally give Illinois voters a campaign cycle without a Democrat tied to the usual Chicago corruption. Hoffman received an endorsement from The Chicago Tribune calling him “incorruptible” and The Chicago Sun-Times, in support of Hoffman, told voters looking for integrity in Washington, “here’s your chance.” These endorsements and a surge in grassroots donations last quarter make Hoffman a serious contender in the primary and in November.

A third Democrat, Cheryle Robinson Jackson, CEO and President of the Chicago Urban League, previously held the position of communication director for ex-Governor Rod Blagojevich. She trails Giannoulias and Hoffman in the polls.

The winner of the Illinois primary for U.S. Senate, specifically for Democrats, will forecast the mood of the general election cycle in the Windy City. Especially after the recent Senate seat loss for Democrats in Massachussets and the bleak outlook for Democrats in many seats across the U.S., the noise in Illinois tomorrow is worth listening to.

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