Thursday, April 15, 2010

Concerns about Alexi Giannoulias misguided

Republican Congressman Mark Kirk, taking his cues from Karl Rove, wants everyone to know that "people are concerned" about his Democratic opponent, Illinois Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias. One of these "concerns" that people are supposed to have is over Alexi's fund-raising prowess.

You see, Alexi only raised $1.2 million to Kirk's $2.2 million in this quarter. Kirk, of course, has benefitted greatly from his support from Wall Street firms and Big Banks, which he voted to bail out in the fall of 2008. And they are certainly rewarding Kirk for his support for the big banks.

Alexi, though, has taken a different tack. His ethical guidelines prevent him from taking money from corporate PACs, like those who have contributed more than 2 million dollars to Mark Kirk. Alexi is running to represent Illinois in the U.S. Senate, not Wall Street. Kirk has already proven he'll sell his vote to the highest bidder (which rarely includes Illinois).

But, like most of Kirk's criticisms of Alexi, this one doesn't stand up, either. Alexi is squarely in the middle of Democratic Senate candidates, both incumbents and non-incumbents. No reason for concern -- unless you're Mark Kirk.

Alexi raised more money than Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Spector -- who's in a tight primary race right now. He raised twice as much as Democratic candidates in New Hampshire, Indiana and Ohio:

NV SEN: Sen. Harry Reid $1.75M
NY Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand $1.6 M
MO Sec/State Robin Carnahan ~$1.5 M
CO Sen. Michael Bennet $1.4 M
IL Treas. Alexi Giannoulias $1.2 M
PA Sen. Arlen Specter $1.16M
NH Rep. Paul Hodes $665 K
IN Rep. Brad Ellsworth $625 K
OH LG Lee Fisher $550 K
LA Rep. Charlie Melancon $543 k

So what's all the fuss about? Oh, yeah. Instead of talking about jobs, Kirk wants to attack Alexi. Instead of talking to the people of Illinois, Kirk wants to -- remember? -- attack Alexi. Whatever the question is, Kirk's answer is to attack Alexi.

The Karl Rove school of politics. Divide the nation, and suppress the vote. Sound familiar?

Democrats are supposed to be demoralized because we've nominated a bright, young, attractive reformer to be our nominee to fill Barack Obama's U.S. Senate seat. While Alexi Giannoulias can point to his head-of-the-pack leadership to save the jobs at HartMarx, Mark Kirk can point to... ANOTHER ATTACK on Alexi Giannoulias. Sense a theme here?

Mark Kirk thinks we're stupid. He thinks that if he can make Alexi a bad boy, Democrats will stay home, not vote or skip the race. And you can understand why. Conservatives are too fond of Kirk. Kirk's actual base may not go far outside his North Shore Congressional District. You won't see any Mark Kirk signs at a Tea Party rally (and don't say his name too loud, if you go). They aren't fans.

Alexi faces a stiff head wind. The national political environment doesn't favor Democrats. The economy is still in the dump for many of us. And Kirk is one of the most formidable candidates Republicans could offer.

But this is Illinois, and -- more importantly -- this is Barack Obama's old seat. Mark Kirk wants to make this race about Alexi Giannoulias, because he understands that Illinois would never elect him if this were about issues, if this was about who bests could represent OUR state in the U.S. Senate.

As this quarter's fundraising totals suggest, Mark Kirk has stepped-up his game. And now Alexi Giannoulias needs to do so, as well. Alexi remains an overly cautious candidate, one who stays well within his comfort zone. He's going to have to step outside that comfort zone and start pushing the envelope. But, in the end, this election is going to be about Illinois, not Alexi Giannoulias. It's going to be about who can best support our favorite son, in his Agenda for Hope and Change in Washington, D.C.

We understand that the East Coast corporate Fat Cats like Mark Kirk. There was really never any question about that. The question is, will Illinois elect someone who will carry Mitch McConnell's and the conservative Southern Republican leadership's water. Because no one expects Mark Kirk to bring an independent voice to the Senate. He's been George Bush's and Donald Rumsfeld's trooper in the House, and you can reasonably expect him to be Mitch McConnell's trooper in the Senate.

Illinois can do better than Mark Kirk, and we will...

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