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In fight for Illinois Senate seat, both sides already dealing blows

The Illinois Senate seat formerly held by Barack Obama stands a decent chance of going to a Republican, analysts say. Primary voters on Tuesday selected Rep. Mark Kirk (R) to vie against state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias (D).

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“This will be a very bitter election,” says Dick Simpson, a political scientist at the University of Illinois in Chicago. “There will be a lot of attack ads not by the candidates themselves.” Democrats have a 10- to 15-percent advantage over Republicans in Illinois in terms of party affiliation, Professor Simpson adds, but if Kirk can gain enough support from independents, he has a possibility of winning.

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Kirk – a House Republican who supports abortion rights and voted for a cap-and-trade system to cut US carbon emissions – is far from a “tea party” candidate, though he moved to the right during the primary campaign. His military service and years in the US House are likely to be used by Republicans to paint him as a more experienced and knowledgeable choice than Giannoulias, who is nearly 20 years his junior.

“He’s the best candidate the Republicans have put forth since [Peter] Fitzgerald,” who won a Senate seat in 1998, says Kent Redfield, a political scientist at the University of Illinois in Springfield. “His challenge is to keep those conservative votes – the 35 to 40 percent who didn’t vote for him last night – while moving to the center.”

Still, Professor Redfield notes, Illinois is a Democratic state and Giannoulias has some pluses, including name recognition, charisma, and a strong base.

“This is a tough state for a Republican to win in, but I’d be very nervous if I were the national Democrats. At a minimum, they’ll have to spend a lot of money defending a seat rather than trying to pick up a seat somewhere else.”

Gubernatorial lineup in limbo

While the Senate race is at least clear-cut, it’s still uncertain who the candidates will be for Illinois governor, in the first election since Blagojevich was indicted for fraud.

Pat Quinn, who has served as governor since Blagojevich was ousted, currently has a 0.8 percent lead over his primary opponent in the vote tally, Comptroller Dan Hynes, but Mr. Hynes has yet to concede the race.

The Republican side is even murkier, with the vote nearly evenly split four ways. The two leaders, state Sens. Bill Brady and Kirk Dillard, are separated by fewer than 1,500 votes with 99 percent of the votes counted, with Senator Brady in the lead. A recount seems inevitable.

Governor Quinn is weakened by the perception that he’s been an ineffective leader, and his apparent narrow victory in the primary won’t help. But if Brady –the lone downstate Republican candidate and the most conservative of the field – is in fact the victor, “the Republicans may have nominated the one person that Pat Quinn can beat,” says Redfield.

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