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Health Care Wars -- Senate Edition

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Blake D. Dvorak

The health care debate seems to have bumped Alexi Giannoulias' other woes off the front page for the moment (despite Laura Washington's incendiary column this week) and given the Democrat something with which to knock Kirk. Exhibit A is the campaign's new web video:


Which is not to say that Kirk is sitting back and taking it. His campaign has kept up the pressure on Giannoulias and his ties to Nick Giannis, posting a "Giannis Watch" to track "how long it takes Illinois Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias to answer questions regarding a $1.2 million loan made by Broadway Bank to Nick Giannis when Giannoulias was the bank's Chief Loan Officer." It's up to 14 days.

Also, Kirk released his first TV ad when the Voting Booth was on hiatus, so wanted to post it:


The Dems' Rotten, No Good, Lousy Week...

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Blake D. Dvorak

...at least according to Crain's Greg Hinz:

I'm not big on assuming that the events of just one week can change the core dynamics of a long political season.

   But I'm going to make an exception today, because Illinois Democrats can't stand too many more weeks like this one if they hope to compete in November.
On Hinz' list of bad news are 1.) Quinn's budget; 2.) the Dems' lt gov. fiasco; 3.) Giannoulias' many problems; and 4.) the situation surrounding retiring Cook County Commissioner Forrest Claypool.

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On problems 2 and 3 I'm with Hinz (we haven't discussed Claypool at all on The Voting Booth, so we'll just set that aside).

The latest wrinkle in the Lt. Gov. mess is that Democrats have set a date, March 27, to vote on a replacement for Scott Lee Cohen -- almost two months after the primary. The 38-member Democratic State Central Committee, headed by Speaker Mike Madigan, will vote on the nominee following four hearings between now and then. It's embarrassing for the party that it's taken this long to get anything done -- after a slew of missteps from both the party and the Quinn people. Democrats have given Republicans a another way to highlight the controlling party's incompetence -- all over the lt. gov. slot! And it looks terrible for Quinn, who's been all but excluded from the process by Madigan.

And of course there's the Giannoulias stuff. Hinz thinks that talks of his departure from the ticket are "premature," and he's probably right. But the very fact that we're talking about it at all is a terrible sign for the candidate. Giannoulias is trying to deflect the heat by attacking Kirk, but the reality is that he's lost control of the debate. The only option left for Giannoulias is to try to ride this out till the summer (or pray for some scandal to ensnare Kirk).

As for Quinn's budget, I'm no so certain it's a loser for him just yet. As he showed last year, Quinn has enough backing from the public-sector unions to stage thousand-strong protests at the Capitol which will generate huge coverage. Teachers and students, social workers, etc,. all crying out for funding is a powerful image, and one Quinn will be able to use effectively.

Moreover, I'm inclined to take Madigan's comments about Quinn's budget ("The people of Illinois don't want a tax increase.") with a grain of salt. No Democrat wants to lose the governor's mansion, least of all Madigan. Some solution is going to be worked out that will save face for Quinn, even if he doesn't get his tax increase.

But I'll add some good news for Democrats:

  1. Despite all his problems, Giannoulias is still edging out Kirk in the polls. Democrats are likely waiting on the next wave of polling to decide whether it's time to ditch Obama's basketball buddy, but until then he's still ahead.
  2. Bill Brady has yet to show that he's ready for this election. Since officially becoming the nominee, Brady has righted himself and is beginning to focus his campaign on jobs and the economy. But it's not like it takes a David Axelrod to understand that's what Brady should have been doing all along. His next step is to start tapping into that Tea Party anger out there on the right, if only to start bringing some enthusiasm to his campaign. Something like an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal or along those lines could bring some much needed national conservative attention.
  3. This is still Blue Illinois, and the big guns haven't been fired yet. I'm talking about the president, whose favorability in his home state is still high enough that an appearance or two down the road could help all Illinois Democrats significantly.

Kirk: Giannoulias' Association w/Criminals Continues

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Blake D. Dvorak

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The Kirk campaign is continuing its assault on Giannoulias following yesterday's arrest of the owners of Boston Blackies for check-kiting allegations, which involved Broadway Bank. The owner, Nick Giannis, has also contributed around $115,000 to Giannoulias over the years. Turns out, however, as the Kirk campaign is circulating, that Giannis already had a felony conviction back in 1996 for firearm possession.

The Giannoulias campaign has said that it will donate the Giannis money to charity, which the Kirk campaign had called for yesterday. Smelling blood, the Kirk campaign isn't giving up, and released a list of questions this morning for Giannoulias:

Questions for Alexi Giannoulias:

1)      Did you and your family know about Nick Giannis' felony conviction when Broadway Bank approved $6 million in loans for him?

2)      When was the last time you spoke to Nick or Chris Giannis before their arrests?

3)      Were you ever made aware by the Giannis family or others that a federal investigation was underway?

4)      Will you agree to donate the Giannis family campaign contributions to Bright Start families who lost their college savings under your risky investment strategy?

Hits Keep Coming for Giannoulias

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Blake D. Dvorak

Not good news for the Giannoulias folks:

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The owner of the Boston Blackie's restaurant chain -- a man with strong political ties to U.S. Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias -- was charged today with bank fraud, along with the owner's son and an employee.

Boston Blackie's owner Nick Giannis, 62, his son, Chris Giannis, 38, and Boston Blackie's manager Andy Bakopoulos, 38, allegedly defrauded Charter One and Washington Mutual banks of nearly $2 million, Cook County prosecutors said.

Giannoulias' family owns Broadway Bank, one of the banks named in the court documents. The bank was not a victim of the alleged scheme, officials said.

Nick Giannis was caught at the Canadian border with his Greek passport this morning.

He and the younger men used other Chicago area banks -- including Giannoulias' family's Broadway Bank -- to carry out their "sophisticated, complex" check-kiting scheme, Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez said.

When pressed about whether Broadway Bank officials knew about the alleged scheme, Alvarez simply said, "These are the three we feel are responsible for this particular case."

Giannis contributed $115,000 to Citizens for Giannoulias between 2005 and 2008 alone and secured millions of dollars in mortgages with Broadway Bank, records show.
On cue, Kirk responds:

"The check-kiting scheme conducted by a top Giannoulias contributor and Broadway Bank client appears to be part of a disturbing pattern of reckless business relationships, questionable banking practices and potentially illegal activity," Congressman Kirk said.  "Alexi Giannoulias should return the massive $119,800 in Giannis campaign contributions given Giannis was caught attempting to leave U.S. jurisdiction."
I don't think there's any doubt that Giannoulias won't return the money. But those, um, reservations circulating around Democratic circles are only going to grow louder. Still on the horizon is the actual shutdown of Broadway Bank, which will be national news.

The question must be asked: Is the clock ticking on Giannoulias for Senate?

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