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The Fitzgerald Factor in the Kirk-Giannoulias Race

Russ Stewart 11 October 2010 8 Comments

Peter Fitzgerald (R) is gone and forgotten. But in 1998, when he won his first and only term as U.S. Senator, he accomplished a daunting feat: He carried Downstate by 328,264 votes (62.4 percent) and the five the collar counties by 164,442 votes (62.4 percent), while losing Cook County by 394,161 votes (35.3 percent).

That’s the historic prescription for a Republican victory: Win Downstate and the collar counties by enough to offset Cook County’s habitual Democratic margin.

It helps to have a flawed Democratic opponent. A fiscal and social conservative, the bland and uncharismatic Fitzgerald was thought unelectable. But incumbent Carol Moseley Braun’s antics and questionable ethics spelled her doom. Being a black liberal Chicagoan, she had negligible appeal outside of Cook County. Fitzgerald won statewide by 98,545 votes.

In the past decade every Democrat, flawed or otherwise, has won statewide, with gigantic margins in Cook County and dwindling Republican margins elsewhere. Rod Blagojevich won Cook County for governor in 2002 by 468,974 votes and in 2006 by 508,605 votes; Barack Obama won Cook County for president in 2008 by 1,141,288 votes. In fact, Obama won the collar counties by 171,814 votes, and Downstate by 75,067 votes.

But Illinois’ 2010 U.S. Senate race is developing into a hybrid of 1998. Both candidates, Republican Mark Kirk and Democrat Alexi Giannoulias are, at best, flawed, and, at worst, execrable. Voters feel as though they’re choosing between a kick in the groin and a poke in the eye.

Kirk, a 10-year North Shore congressman, has come to be perceived as a serial liar, utterly devoid of principle, with no moral compass. In short, a crass opportunist and ideological wind sock. Giannoulias, the one-term state treasurer, is perceived as a clueless idiot, utterly lacking in judgment, whose performance as an officer at his now-defunct family bank was beyond inept. In short, out of his league.

The candidates’ shortcomings – Kirk’s persistent exaggerations of his military record, and Giannoulias’s incompetence as treasurer and as a banker – means voters must choose the least unacceptable candidate. A plethora of media ads reinforce that theme: I’m not perfect, they say, but my opponent is worse.

To date, Kirk and Giannoulias have each spent over $2 million. Neither has captured voters’ imaginationt. The latest Illinois Fox News/Rasmussen poll gave Obama a 46/46 percent approve/disapprove, had the healthcare reform at 45/45 percent approve/repeal, and put Kirk ahead by just 42-40 percent, with a hefty 18 percent undecided. A CNN/Time poll had Giannoulias ahead 43-42 percent. But the Chicago Tribune poll had it 38-36 for Giannoulias.

The Green Party candidate is LeAlan Jones, who is black, with a black-sounding name. If he gets 3-5 percent, or over 125,000 votes, Giannoulias loses. The Libertarian is Mike Labno.

In other states, Republican candidates are attempting to “nationalize” their campaign, making it a referendum on Obama and the Democratic Congress. In Illinois, it’s the obverse. Democrat Giannoulias is embracing the president, pledging to be a pro-Obama senator, supporting Obama’s liberal agenda, and running TV ads featuring Obama. The only way he can win is to make it a referendum on Obama.

“It’s a very calculated risk,” observed a Chicago Democratic politician of Giannoulias’s strategy. “A lot of people love the president, but a sizeable amount hate him. Alexi is counting on a big black vote” in Cook County, but “that could be offset by a big anti-Obama vote Downstate.”

Although the Democratic party has imploded, beset with scandals and incompetence, and although Illinois’ unemployment rate hovers above 10 percent, the I-love-Barack strategy is Giannoulias’s only plausible path to victory. The president is still popular in Illinois. The Obama-haters, Tea partiers, and conservatives will flock to the polls, and Kirk will get their vote by default – not because they like him, but because they want to repudiate Obama.

By embracing Obama, Giannoulias hopes to solidify his black base, and entice the marginally dissatisfied 2008 Obama voters to reaffirm their faith, and vote for him.

In 1998, Braun beat Fitzgerald in Chicago by 552,729-145,540 (79.1 percent), and she got 315,890 of her vote in the 20 black-majority wards. In 2008, Obama beat John McCain in Chicago by 919,447-147,532 (86.1 percent), and he got 453,152 of his votes in the black wards. The difference: 2010 is not a presidential year, so turnout will be down by a quarter. Giannoulias will not replicate Obama’s or Braun’s vote among blacks, but he cannot win unless he gets 300,000 votes in the black wards.

In the 5-candidate primary, Giannoulias had near-monolithic support from white Chicago committeemen and Downstate county chairmen. Yet he finished with a weak 38.9 percent (352,202 votes), getting 35.7 percent in Chicago, 37.4 percent in the suburbs, 41.5 percent in the collar counties, and 44.3 percent Downstate. The 304,757 votes (33.7 percent) drawn by David Hoffman, cast by anti-Machine liberals, will not necessarily gravitate to Giannoulias.

Downstate is Kirk’s firewall. Fitzgerald won the area by 822,031-494,037, a margin of 327,994 – which negated Braun’s black vote. In 2008, McCain lost Downstate by 75,067 votes. Republican Bill Brady will win the area by close to 400,000 votes over Pat Quinn, and will drag Kirk with him.

In states like Kentucky and Nevada, so-called “crackpot” Republicans are competitive because they’re running anti-Obama campaigns in an anti-Obama environment. Illinois is not such an environment, which is why Kirk is struggling. He can’t frontally attack Obama. As a veteran officeholder and resume embellisher, he can’t posture as an “outsider.” He is devoid of charisma. And he is distrusted, if not despised, by Republican conservatives.

My prediction: Statewide turnout will be around 3.4 million, well down from 2008’s 5.5 million – a 2.1 million dropoff, the bulk of which will be Obama voters. McCain got 2,031,179 votes in 2008, which is the Republican base; that’s 300,000 more than Fitzgerald got in 1998. Obama got 3,419,348 votes, which is double the 1998 Braun vote.

The arithmetic is simple: 1.7 million is the magic number. Kirk wins if he pulls 84 percent of the 2008 McCain voters to the polls; Giannoulias wins if he entices just half of the 2008 Obama voters to the polls. That validates Giannoulias’s strategy. To be sure, 10-15 percent of the Obama “independents” will opt for Kirk, which should insure his election.

An unflawed Kirk would have won easily. Instead, he will win narrowly – by less than 50,000 votes.

10th District (North Shore suburbs: east Lake County and northern Cook County): Kirk is vacating this seat, and Democrat Dan Seals, who lost to Kirk in 2006 (46.6 percent) and 2008 (47.4 percent), is running ahead of Republican Bob Dold, a pest control company owner and novice candidate who may not fit the “moderate” Kirk mold. Kirk was fiscally conservative, but supported abortion rights, gay rights and gun control.

The district “went for Clinton, Gore, Kerry and Obama,” said Seals campaign spokesperson Aviva Gibbs. “It is not a Tea Party district. It is not a socially conservative district. Seals represents (the district’s) core values.” The campaign’s internal polling, she said, show Seals leading by 13 percent.

In 2008, Obama won the district 181,071-114,035, while Kirk won by 153,082-138,136. Seals spent $3.5 million, fervently embraced Obama, unleashed a torrent of TV ads tying Kirk to George Bush, yet ran a stunning 42,895 votes behind Obama. Kirk ran 39,074 votes ahead of McCain.

Going into 2010, Seals was viewed as damaged goods, a two-time loser. He won the 2010 primary by 959 votes. But the 10th District might just be a counter-cyclical, going against the flow.

Seals has re-invented himself. He now supports the extension of the 2001 and 2003 Bush tax cuts; he opposes Obama’s Afghanistan troop surge; he opposes any further “stimulus” spending; and he claims the costs of Obamacare are not sustainable. He rips Dold as an “extremist,” accusing him of flip-flopping on abortion.

“He (Seals) has unabashedly supported the Obama agenda,” said Kelly Klopp, Dold’s spokesperson. “He’s trying to portray himself as ‘independent.’ Voters won’t buy it.”

The district has 514 precincts — 293 in Cook County and 221 in Lake County. In 2006, in a turnout of 202,207, Kirk won Cook County by 12,358 votes, and Lake County by 1,393; in 2008, in a turnout of 291,258, Kirk won Cook by 16,498 and lost Lake by 1,592.

My prediction: The battleground is New Trier, Northfield and Palatine townships. Turnout will be 200,000. Seals’ base is 90,000. He must peel off more than 10,000 past Kirk voters. “Our polls show that 16 percent of (district) Kirk (for U.S. Senate) voters are backing Dan,” said Gibbs.

Seals has “localized” the race, making it a choice between himself and Dold, not a referendum on Obama. A Dold win would be an upset.


  • Kyle said:

    Can we just keep the seat empty?

    I guess my 1 vote won’t make much of a difference so I may still vote for Kirk, but I won’t recommend him to friend. He’s on his own. It’s a pity he ran in the first place, and it will be so enjoyable to watch him lose; such a finger in the wind, calculating lightweight. So maybe I should just decide what would be more enjoyable to me; watching Kirk lose, or feeling 1/2 secure that Kirk will vote the right way in a lame duck session. Of course, the Republicans already have 41 Senate seats for the lame duck session, so we shouldn’t have to worry, right? It’s too bad that we do. I think I’ll vote for Labno, and probably recommend him to all my friends. Sorry Kirk, go ask Planned Parenthood for some more money if you need the extra votes.

  • October 12, 2010 – State News (author) said:

    […] DAILY OBSERVER– The Fitzgerald Factor in the Kirk-Giannoulias Race – Russ Stewarthttp://www.cdobs.com/archive/featured/the-fitzgerald-factor-in-the-kirk-giannoulias-race/   MCHENRY COUNTY BLOG– Is It “Cheating” to Vote Early? – Cal […]

  • Terry P. said:

    The Libertarian candidate, Mike Labno, has a much more conservative stance on most issues than Mark Kirk. If this information gets out, he may end up drawing as many conservative protest votes away from Kirk as LeAlan Jones takes away from Alexi G.–and that could end up making it pretty much of a wash between them.

  • John Powers said:


    Labno is in favor of restricting 1st amendment rights for business, which seems like a bizarre position for someone in favor of Liberty.

    Selective application of fundamental rights seems a better fit for the Socialist Worker Parter rather than the Libertarians.


  • Mike Labno said:

    @John Powers:

    Restricting 1st Amendment Rights?…Oh dear troller, please do explain.

    In Life, In Liberty,
    Mike Labno

  • John Powers said:

    Campaign Finance Reform = Free Speech Restriction Mike. Perhaps I have your position mixed up, so tell us what is your position on Campaign Finance, rather than attacking potential voters.


  • Mike Labno said:

    @ John: “Perhaps I have your position mixed up”…exactly, you do…and this is why third party people are so very disappoiinted with people that post things that are untrue…too much of what is written is taken for fact here on the internet and appears to be an attack meant solely to send voters back to the same old two party system…no matter which side you may support.

    But to the crux of the question, I do not support campaign finance reform…even though it works against me at this point…I believe in a free and open election process, period. The only reform I want is equitable ballot access for everyone.

    In Life, In Liberty,
    Mike Labno

  • John Powers said:

    Good Mike,

    I had read that the Libertarian Candidate for Senate, was in favor of “campaign finance reform”, but do not see that anywhere now. I apologize for the misinformation.


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