Republican Congressman Mark Kirk now leads Democrat Alexi Giannoulias in Illinois’ up-and-down race for the former U.S. Senate seat of President Barack Obama, according to the latest Rasmussen poll.
Although this is one of the key races that could enable Republicans to take control of the Senate, a no less important, but symbolic, element of the race is that Obama could see his own once seemingly safe seat fall into GOP hands. It would be one more blow to his midterm fortunes.
With the upcoming retirement of Roland Burris, whom controversial former Gov. Rod Blagojevich appointed to fill the president’s former Senate term in the interim, the election pits the 34-year old Alexi Giannoulias and popular Republican Congressman Kirk.
The most recent Rasmussen Reports statewide telephone survey of like voters shows Kirk picking up 44 percent of the vote, while Giannoulias, the current state treasurer, draws 40 percent support. Green Party candidate LeAlan Jones earns the vote from four percent (4 percent) of voters, and eight percent (8 percent) prefer some other candidate. Five percent (5 percent) are undecided.
The race is still a toss-up in the Rasmussen Reports Election 2010 Senate Balance of Power rankings, but Democrats are facing more and more toss-ups in both the House and the Senate to seats that were once considered safe. Republicans need 10 seats to take control of the Senate, while nearly every pollster predicts they’ll win the 39 seats needed to control the House. The survey was taken the night before their second head-to-head debate.
The race was a virtual tie last week, when Giannoulias picked up 44 percent of the vote to Kirk's 43 percent. Highlighting the closeness of this contest is the fact that Kirk and Giannoulias have now run within four points or less of each other in 10 surveys since early June. Jones' support has held steady at 4 percent for the past three surveys.
The survey of 750 likely voters in Illinois was conducted on Oct. 18.
This new poll was conducted entirely before Tuesday night's acrimonious debate, but it does provide a useful baseline measurement for any potential changes down the line, Talking Points Media pointed out. The TPM Poll Average, meanwhile, gives Kirk 44.1 percent, Giannoulias 42.3 percent, and Jones 3.6 percent.
The debate — the second of three — comes as both campaigns are focused on turning out their base vote. Polls show that about 15 percent of Illinois voters seem hopelessly undecided on filling the seat President Obama once held, Lynn Sweet of Politics Daily reported. Meanwhile, the Illinois airwaves are blanketed with ads suggesting the race is between a mob banker and a serial embellisher.
“By rights, Alex Giannoulis, the Democrat, should have been finished by the news that his bankrupt family bank made loans to felons,” the London Telegraph’s Tony Harnden wrote Wednesday. “But Congressman Mark Kirk’s penchant for Al Gore-like exaggerations has meant he has never pulled away.”
Giannoulias challenged Kirk at three points Tuesday night to explain whether he had been shot at in a plane when he was serving in Iraq. In June, video surfaced from 2003 showing Kirk saying he was shot at while flying aboard aircraft in Iraq, but no records were ever produced proving the claim. Kirk later apologized for other misstatements about his military service, including that he had received the Navy's Intelligence Office of the Year award and had served in Iraq, Sweet reported.
"The question, Congressman, is, why with this record, would you not tell the truth? Why would you make all this stuff up? ... Congressman, it's a simple question: Were you shot at or not?," Giannoulias asked Kirk during their testy one-hour televised debate in Chicago, Politico
Giannoulias' aggressive line of attack on one of the thorniest questions facing Kirk came just two weeks before Election Day in what appears to one of the closest and nastiest Senate races in the country.
"He keeps on pointing to these fitness reports to provide answers to these questions but I've looked at the fitness reports. Nowhere in there does it say that he served in Iraq. Nowhere in there does it say he was shot at by Dutch peacekeepers. Nowhere does it say that he was shot at at all," Giannoulias said.
But Kirk said he owned up to his mistakes — but that Giannoulias never took responsibility for his family-owned, failed Broadway Bank, which made bad loans to mobsters, or the losses in the Illinois college savings program, named Bright Star.
“I’m not perfect. I made mistakes. But I owned them and corrected them. And meanwhile, my opponent says nothing is really his fault,” Kirk said.
"My opponent, nothing is really his fault," Kirk countered, before listing Giannoulias' political liabilities tied to his family's failed bank. "Betting his bank's future on the risky real estate loans, brokered hot money deposits and loans to well known convicted felons and mobsters."
The North Shore congressman also said it was ironic that his opponent would take aim at his military record never having served a day in uniform himself.
"I have put my life on the line for the United States as many of my fellow veterans have done, but your entire campaign is about a military record in which I served. I put it on the line. You were back in the rear with the gear and I understand you made that decision," Kirk replied.
Kirk then attempted to turn the tables on Giannoulias for his statement on NBC's Meet the Press last week that he did not know the extent of the criminal activity of the mobsters and felons his bank made loans to.
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