"Let nothing human be alien to me"- Terence

Friday, February 5, 2010

A Quick Look At The Illinois Senate Race

The idea of winning the Senate seat that used to be President Obama's is a tremor-inducing possibility for the Republican Party.  In addition to further changing the arithmetic of the Senate, the symbolic victory would be enormous- it would be trumpeted to prove that the country no longer cares for Obama and his policies, if his party can't even win in his own state.

This is a good story, and probably contains some truth, but it is far from being the whole picture.  Politics, as always, are local.  I think one needs to look more closely at the internal dynamics of a race before painting a broad picture.  The mood of the nation is only really reflected, I think, in Presidential elections or when either party gains a huge amount of seats (which might happen this November).  So let's take a peek at what is going on in Illinois.

The race is going to be between Republican Mark Kirk and Democrat Alexi Giannoulias.  Kirk handily won his primary; Giannoulias barely edged his reform-touting opponent, David Hoffman (hereafter I am going to refer to Giannoulias as Alexi.  This isn't me being friendly or name-droppy, but because that is how he is referred to and because it is much easier to type).

Smart money is on Kirk.  He is a 5th-term Congressman and a reservist who recently went in that capacity to Afghanistan.  Tough story to beat.  Contrast that with 33-yr-old Alexi, currently the state's Treasurer.  Our financial woes aren't all his fault, but that is still a tough resume.  Alexi has also served overseas, but as a basketball player.  Additionally, his family bank is under ethics reviews, and he can be connected- but not in an illegal way- to the Blagojevich/Rezko axis of shadiness.  He is a smart man, strikes many as decent, and a good campaigner.   But I doubt that will be enough to overcome Blago/Burris/Rezko/Daley etc in a Republican year.

Still- I would not take this as a sign of a huge rightward shift in Illinois.  We've always been a state that has had both Republican and Democratic governors (both of whom end up in jail), and conditions are right for Kirk.  Additionally, Kirk is not a dogmatist.  He is someone who has always been respected by liberals such as myself, and his tenous and opportunistic overtures toward the Tea Party types have sounded false.  He was even labeled a RINO.   Yet he won the nomination handily.

So we'll see- if he campaigns as a psuedo-populist winger, all fire and anger with no ideas other than "no!" I think he might end up losing.  It would be a Romney-esque farce, and I don't think his heart would be in it.  It would also be rejected. Chicago Dems will not go down without a fight, and I think Alexi may surprise some people.  The way he runs his campaign and its outcomes will say far more about the state than simply reading a victory as a repudiation of Obama.

 In closing, I want to give a really quick demonstration on: How Not to Use Numbers Honestly.  In a column, Michael Reagan wants to demonstrate how well things are going for Kirk.  "Kirk, who has ridden the wave of Conservative voter enthusiasm, easily won his primary by 37 points. His general election opponent, Democrat Giannoulias, struggled to find the same level of enthusiasm within his party ranks and merely earned the nomination by 5 percent of the vote. And it is now estimated that Kirk holds a powerful 3-to-1 advantage in cash on hand."  The cash thing is easily explained by Kirk being the only viable Republican.  The percentage thing is absurd, of course- there were over 100,000 more ballots cast on the Democratic side.  If you win 2-1 and I win 100-99, is there really more enthusiasm for you?   It is true that there was more relative excitement for Kirk in the GOP, but that was partly because the Dems had two viable candidates.  As I said, my money is on Kirk, but not for those straw-clutching reasons.

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