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Giannoulias Web Ad: Really, Mark Kirk?

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Blake D. Dvorak

A new web ad from the Giannoulias campaign:


There are two issues here: The politics and the reality. On the former, the question is whether there will be still be enough anger out there (and there is anger) in November as there is in March. The Democrats gambled that pushing the bill through now would limit whatever political blowback might come six months from now. American memories being what they are (short), it's not such a bad bet as the GOP might think. But if elections are about getting your base out to vote, a bunch of pissed off Republicans is a better Get Out the Vote Effort than a bunch of marginally happy Democrats. (see Democrats in 2006 and 2008.) He just needs to counter all that talk about throwing the kids and granny to the insurance wolves with talk about how much this bill is really going to cost everyone.

The reality, however, is that this bill won't be repealed any time soon, even if the GOP captures Congress in November, and the party knows that -- and Rachel Maddow knows that. However many seats the GOP takes in Congress it will not have the 2/3rds majority to override the president's veto. This is all about November and electoral politics.

Stop Picking on Me!

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Blake D. Dvorak

I don't usually post the daily solicitation emails I get from the campaigns -- the ones asking for money -- because there's usually nothing useful in them. But this one from Mark Kirk's campaign was a good one:

Dear Friends,

Are you worried about this country in a way you haven't been before?

Has someone laughed at you because you are from Illinois? ...

Remember, we're up against ACORN/SEIU, the Trial Lawyers and MoveOn.org - they have millions to keep Congress approving more taxes and government spending ...
Wait, what? Has someone laughed at me? Of course I get what the campaign means -- Blago et al. -- but it was just, er, a funny way of putting it.

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?

Giannoulias Goes On the Offensive

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Blake D. Dvorak

At a press conference today Alexi Giannoulias, who's taken his hits recently from all sides, went on the attack against Mark Kirk. From the AP:

At a news conference Thursday, Giannoulias criticized Kirk's legislative record on banking regulation. He says Kirk voted to bail out Wall Street firms but opposed attempts at reform.

A Kirk campaign spokesman hasn't returned messages seeking comment.

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Well, the Kirk campaign has responded with that ol' campaign stand-by, "The Fact Check." Here's a portion of what the campaign sent out:

FACT: Congressman Kirk was among the first members of Congress to support financial reforms.  In 2005, while Alexi Giannoulias was making risky loans at Broadway Bank, Mark Kirk was one of only 73 members of Congress - Republican or Democrat - who voted to tighten regulations at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.  (Source: http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d109:HZ00600:)

FACT: Congressman Kirk also remains a leading proponent of cracking down on Wall Street criminals.  In 2008, Congressman Kirk joined Congressman Chris Carney (D-PA) in calling on the FBI to increase funding dedicated to White Collar Crime investigations.  (New York Times, "F.B.I. Struggles to Handle Financial Fraud Cases," 10/18/2008)

FACT: With regard to legislation giving more control over the private sector to the Treasury Department, here is what Congressman Kirk told the Chicago Tribune: "We quickly forget that it was our government-run financial institutions - Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac - that caused this crisis.  With huge taxpayer losses in General Motors, AIG and Citibank, we should not put our trust in the management of the U.S. Treasury Department.  Instead of putting the power in the hands of the Treasury Secretary, we should use the independent Risk Authority Board to alert us when large institutions enter crisis and provide specific authorities to Federal judges to intervene." (Congressman Kirk, Chicago Tribune Questionnaire, 2010 Primary)
Kirk needs to be a bit careful here. The whole anti-banker stuff is mostly coming from the left and Democrats. Although the Tea Partiers and others on the right are very upset at bailing out these banks, their issue has much more to do with spending than with anti-Wall Street/banker sentiment.

Now Kirk certainly wants to pick off as many Independents and Democrats as he can, so at one level attacking Giannoulias the Banker is not bad politics. But if he starts harping too much on all the ways he attempted to rein in Wall Street, he'll start alienating supporters on the right -- the very folks who think Kirk should be grateful he has their support at all.

Which is why Kirk needs to keep his line of attack on Giannoulias the Incompetent; Giannoulias the Big Spender; Giannoulias the Inside-Deal-Maker. You get the point. Otherwise, conservatives might start thinking that their concerns about Kirk -- that he'll shift according to political necessity -- were more than idle.

New Bob Dold Web Video

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Blake D. Dvorak

Republican Bob Dold is the first-time politician looking to hang on to Mark Kirk's 10th congressional seat. The seat has been in GOP hands for the better part of the last century. With that kind of historical background, one would think Dold is a shoo-in come November. But the district has been voting Democratic for several years now at the presidential level, and Mark Kirk had to fight off Dan Seals in two tough campaigns.

Some Democrats questioned whether it was wise to give Seals a third shot, when he couldn't beat Kirk in two thoroughly Democratic years ('06 and '08). The other way to look at it is that it was the moderate Kirk who won those campaigns, not the GOP, and with him gone, Seals has a much higher name recognition than the newbie Dold.

Whatever the case, Dold needs to get his name out there quickly, and that's where web videos come in:



Another wrinkle in this race is the attention the parties' congressional committees are giving it. The DCCC just announced that Seals is part of the "Red to Blue" program, which highlights just 13 races throughout the country worthy of special notice to donors. Meanwhile, the NRCC has Dold as one of its Young Guns, which basically does the same thing. (Also on the NRCC's Young Gun program are Adam Kinzinger (11th) and Randy Hultgren (14th).

Marin: Alexi Facing Heat to Withdraw

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Blake D. Dvorak

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I won't say that Carol Marin's prediction today is the first I've heard or thought about it, but since Marin's sources are a bit better than mine it's probably more than idle musings. From her Sun-Times column:

Prediction: Pressure on Giannoulias to get out

...

Giannoulias has tried to get out in front of the seemingly imminent failure of his family's Broadway Bank, but there's no way to put that story behind him as long as the FDIC could move in at any time and take it over.

Giannoulias met with David Axelrod at the White House on Tuesday. At the same time, Republicans were sending out dispatches with a reminder of President Obama's recent denunciation of "fat cats who are getting rewarded for their failure . . . bankers don't need another vote in the U.S. Senate."

Expect heat on Alexi to exit the kitchen.
First, about that White House pow-wow, the speculation in the media is that the administration will support Giannoulias, but not go out of its way (see here, here and here). This is Obama press secretary Robert Gibbs' formal (a wee bit too formal?) statement on that matter:

Alexi Giannoulias is the Democratic nominee for the United States Senate and has the support and the backing of the White House.
Second, instead of trying to read the tea leaves from press secretaries who are paid to be vague, why not just look at the polling? From TPM Poll Tracker:



FoxChicago reported this morning on a new Rasmussen poll, not yet released on Rasmussen's site, showing Giannoulias +3 (44-41). And as First Read reported, the Giannoulias campaign is pushing back at the idea of withdrawing:

The Giannoulias camp pushes back, noting that at least two polls show him leading Republican Mark Kirk, and that the campaign just signed up a major Obama fundraiser.
For the interested, that fundraiser is Jordan Kaplan, who worked on both Obama's 2004 Senate and 2008 presidential campaigns. Yet Fox's Scott Brown notes that this is a return engagement for Kaplan, who previously worked for Giannoulias back in the exploratory committee days early on. I guess the point is that it's not like the Obama White House "gave" Kaplan to Giannoulias.

Still, the polls are what they are, and they don't (yet) show much reason for Giannoulias to withdraw. Yes, they're closer than Team Giannoulias would like right now when it looks like it's going to be a GOP year. But it's not as if Giannoulias is foundering at the moment.

Getting back to Marin's prediction, much depends on the political fallout from Broadway Bank's imminent collapse. If the heat intensifies, then Giannoulias might have to admit that he's carrying a bit too much baggage in a year that portends huge Democratic losses.
 

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