In an fairly unsurprising development, the senior U.S. Senator from Illinois, Dick Durbin, will be taking the reins of the campaign of Democratic Senate nominee Alexi Giannoulias, which has already gotten off to a poor start. Giannoulias faced a surprisingly strong primary challenge from former Asst. U.S. Attorney and Chicago Inspector General David Hoffman, taking hits with respect to Giannoulias' purported ethical lapses and shady banking connections, and having to spend down a good deal of his campaign war chest that he had built up in expectation of battling Republican Congressman Mark Kirk in the November general election. As of the latest polling, Mark Kirk leads Giannoulias 46% to 40%. It's clear that it's not just the Republicans who recognize that Alexi is already in trouble, says HuffPo:
The addition of a heavyweight such as Durbin shows just how serious the Democrats are about the threat posed by Rep. Mark Kirk, a fifth-term congressman from Chicago's north suburbs and the Republican candidate for the seat. It also shows where the focus of the race will be, geographically speaking. Durbin is very popular downstate, and with Kirk and Giannoulias both coming from Chicagoland, the two will be fighting hard to win voters in central and southern Illinois.
Contrary to what HuffPo would have us believe, I'm not sure if I agree that Durbin is all that popular in Illinois, although he's been pretty politically bulletproof over the past few years as the GOP has run ineffective candidates and allowed him to built up a warchest of over $5 million the last time I checked. How effective Durbin will be as the figurehead for Giannoulias remains to be seen. Durbin has pulled a few boner moves in his career, including asking President Bush to pardon former Governor George Ryan, comparing American servicemen to Nazis, and strongly supporting the sale of Thomson prison to the Feds as a jobs-creation measure, which seemed to be fairly unpopular and may be a bust, if in fact it never happens.
Durbin has long since showed his preference for and support of Giannoulias to take the junior Senate seat, ever since Durbin invited Alexi along to carry his briefcase on a trip to Greece this same time last year, for no other apparent purpose than to try to burnish Alexi's nonexistent foreign policy credentials.
The Giannoulias camp is already trying to downplay expectations and even trying to take on the mantle of underdog, at least with respect to fundraising:
"We know we're going to be outspent," Durbin told The Associated Press. He noted that the National Republican Senatorial Campaign began running negative advertising the day after Giannoulias won Tuesday's primary. "We realize we're the underdogs to this onslaught of money."
As we've pointed out before, the notion that Alexi is any kind of underdog, in a blue state like Illinois, where the Dems have a lock on every constitutional office, plus close to absolute control of the General Assembly, is a bit laughable.
Moreover, the Giannoulias campaign has already been testing a general election campaign theme of running against Kirk as a "Washington Insider," based on Kirk's 10 years as a Congressman. One wonders if that message, should Giannoulias try to stick with it, will fall flat when people look at the fact that Durbin, who if anything is even more of an "insider" (being the #2 man in the Senate) than Kirk, is now chairing the Giannoulias campaign.
The good news for us is that the Dems really think they are in trouble with Alexi as their candidate, and he's not likely to go the way of Scott Lee Cohen.