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Illinois Senate Race Attracts Parties' Big Guns
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Illinois Senate Race Attracts Parties' Big Guns

Politics

Illinois Senate Race Attracts Parties' Big Guns

Illinois Senate Race Attracts Parties' Big Guns
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Candidates for the Illinois Senate seat will get help from prominent politicians in the closing days of the campaign. President Obama will campaign for Democrat Alexi Giannoulias, and Karl Rove will stump for Republican Mark Kirk.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, I'm Mary Louise Kelly.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

With a week to go before Election Day, we focus now on the State of Illinois. In a moment, a state's Supreme Court justice campaigns to keep his seat, as big donors pour cash into the race.

First the contest for the Senate seat once held by President Obama. It's one of the tightest Senate races in the country and Democrats are counting on their party's heavy hitters for help. Today, former President Bill Clinton leads a rally in Chicago, and later this week, President Obama will try, as well.

NPR's Cheryl Corley reports.

CHERYL CORLEY: The fight for Illinois Senate seat has been defined by some pretty nasty charges. The Democrats' state treasurer Alexi Giannoulias is being portrayed as a banker to the mob.

(Soundbite of a political ad)

Unidentified Man #1: As a bank executive, he loaned $15.4 million to convicted mobster, Michael Jaws Jurango...

CORLEY: Giannoulias was vice president of the now-defunct Broadway Bank. He says mistakes were made at his family's failed bank, but he's an honest man. But he calls his opponent, Republican Congressman Mark Kirk, a liar.

Mr. ALEXI GIANNOULIAS (D-Illinois, Senatorial Candidate): Mark Kirk is caught in a lie.

Representative MARK KIRK (R-Illinois, Senatorial Candidate): I was the Navy's Intelligence Officer of the Year.

Unidentified Woman: He claimed a military award he actually never won.

CORLEY: Kirk, who has served five terms in Congress, admitted embellishing his resume, said he had learned his lesson and apologized to voters. Giannoulias isn't about to let go of the issue. He mentions trust at every opportunity.

In another turn this week, Giannoulias criticized Kirk for using a videoconference to raise money from American businessmen in China, the day before a congressional vote on overseas business.

Mr. GIANNOULIAS: To me, this is egregious and it can be called nothing other than an act of economic treason.

CORLEY: And Kirk shot back.

Rep. KIRK: To accuse me, a 21-year Navy veteran, of being a traitor when he never served a day in uniform in his life, was beyond the pale.

CORLEY: University of Illinois, Springfield Professor Charlie Wheeler says the nastiness of the Illinois Senate race stands out, even in a year filled with negative ads and harsh political attacks.

Professor CHARLIE WHEELER (Director, Public Affairs Reporting Program, University of Illinois, Springfield): If you would listen to what each says about the other, neither is fit to be dogcatcher, much less U.S. senator.

CORLEY: Illinois is a Democratic state, but Republicans - sensing a chance to seize a pivotal seat and to embarrass Democrats and the president - have poured millions of dollars into the race.

Unidentified Man #2: The race for the U.S. Senate...

CORLEY: During their last debate, Giannoulias and Kirk sparred over tax cuts, immigration and ways to fix a bleeding economy. Giannoulias blamed the exploding deficit and job losses on decisions Republicans made during the Bush years.

Mr. GIANNOULIAS: Congressman Kirk, for over the last decade, has been architect of some of these decisions. Why in the world do we send the same people who created this mess back to Washington, D.C.?

CORLEY: Kirk says, on Election Day, the economy will be the deciding factor and he supports renewing all Bush-era tax cuts.

Rep. KIRK: In this race, I am the candidate that will vote to spend less, to borrow less and to tax less to help save our economy.

CORLEY: The latest poll show the Senate race is a toss-up, a high percentage of voters say they are undecided. But on a recent day in downtown Chicago, some had clearly made up their mind.

Mr. STEVE DUCKER(ph): I'm going to vote for Mark Kirk because he's not part of the machine and I don't trust any politician.

CORLEY: Besides, says Steve Ducker, a retired sales manager, with Democrats in control of the White House, Senate and the U.S. House, there needs to be balance.

Sitting nearby, Beverly Catherine(ph) says she's backing Giannoulias and found Kirk's revelation about his military career disappointing, since several of her family members serve.

Ms. BEVERLY CATHERINE: I don't see how anybody that has been active in the military could forgive him for that.

CORLEY: Now in the final days of the campaign, candidates will take all the help they can get, convincing voters to go to the polls.

Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chicago.

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