Democrats Risk Losing Obama's Old Senate Seat Illinois voters head to the polls Feb. 2 to elect Senate nominees in the Republican and Democratic primaries. Democrats in Illinois could be in trouble because of missteps by the party along with a weak and untested Democratic field. Add to that a strong moderate running away with the nomination on the GOP side.
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Democrats Risk Losing Obama's Old Senate Seat

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Democrats Risk Losing Obama's Old Senate Seat

Democrats Risk Losing Obama's Old Senate Seat

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STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

NPR's David Schaper reports from Chicago.

DAVID SCHAPER: Unidentified Man: Tired of being embarrassed by elected officials? Take a look at a real leader. Congressman Mark Kirk has a...

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SCHAPER: Polls show that Illinois Republican voters will likely nominate moderate, five-term Congressman Mark Kirk in next Tuesday's primary. He is considered by many to be the most electable Illinois Republican in some time, as every statewide office is now held by Democrats. And that's turned the Democratic primary race for the Senate seat into a battle of who stacks up best against Mark Kirk.

CHERYLE JACKSON: I am the best Democratic candidate to beat Mark Kirk because I'm strongest on the issues that Mark Kirk is weakest on.

SCHAPER: Frontrunner Alexi Giannoulias, the 33-year-old state treasurer who is a basketball-playing friend of the president's, agrees that voters are angry.

ALEXI GIANNOULIAS: And they're angry with insider politics. And I think for the past 10 years, Mark Kirk has been a part of that culture. He's taken money from insurance companies, from Wall Street banks, from large corporations, and he's voted their way time and time again.

SCHAPER: But as Giannoulias criticizes Kirk, he is on the defensive over a state college savings program that lost millions and his family's bank ties to Tony Rezko, the Blagojevich fundraiser convicted on corruption charges.

DAVID HOFFMAN: Here's the question on people's minds: Who can we trust?

SCHAPER: First-time candidate David Hoffman emphasizes he is scandal-free. The former federal prosecutor and independent inspector general at Chicago's City Hall says that's critically important for the nominee if the Democrats are to having any chance of keeping the seat.

HOFFMAN: We are worse off in Massachusetts because of the very corruption scandals that have racked the Democratic Party here, and we absolutely need a nominee who is going to take the corruption issue off the table, not allow Blagojevich or Rezko or any of these other characters to come in, and I am the only nominee who does that.

SCHAPER: Hoffman has earned the endorsements of just about every newspaper in the state, and though he's been gaining a lot of ground in recent weeks, polls still put both Hoffman and Jackson well behind Giannoulias.

MICHAEL MEZEY: The Democratic field is, to say the least, unimpressive.

SCHAPER: DePaul University political science Professor Michael Mezey says no matter who wins the Democrat primary next week, Republican Kirk will be tough to beat.

MEZEY: I don't think it's a lock, by any means. I think it'll be a competitive race, but I would have this high up on the list of seats that might well flip in 2010.

SCHAPER: David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago.

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