PREVIEW-Could Illinois’ US Senate race copy Massachusetts?

* Democrats dominate Illinois, but Republicans see opening

* Republican Kirk may not stir Tea Party voters

* Giannoulias, other Democrats, seen lacking experience

By Andrew Stern

CHICAGO, Jan 31 (BestGrowthStock) – Buoyed by their surprise U.S.
Senate victory in Massachusetts, Republicans in President
Barack Obama’s home state of Illinois sense the Senate seat he
left vacant is ripe for their picking come November elections.

Obama’s Democrats have long dominated Illinois politics.
But Republicans view their man Scott Brown’s capture in January
of the late Edward Kennedy’s seat in Massachusetts as a sign of
voter dismay with Democrats in the White House and Congress.

Public opinion polls ahead of Tuesday’s party primaries in
Illinois show five-term U.S. Representative Mark Kirk likely to
win the Republican nomination easily.

Favored to win the Democratic primary and face off Kirk for
the vacant seat is Alexi Giannoulias, Illinois treasurer and
Obama’s basketball-playing buddy.

“The Democratic candidates are second-tier. They’re not
particularly exciting, not particularly experienced,” DePaul
University political analyst Michael Mezey said.

Kirk has lent his own twist to Brown’s best-known line in
the campaign, saying: “This is not Obama’s seat, it’s the
people’s seat.”

One poll showed Kirk trailing Giannoulias if the two face
off — but only narrowly. That’s a far cry from the 62 percent
of Illinois voters who cast ballots for Obama against 37
percent for the Republican John McCain in November 2008.

Because Kirk has been in the House of Representatives since
2000, and because of his moderate stances on some issues, he is
less able to take advantage of the anti-incumbent fervor among
some voters that likely helped Brown.

“Kirk is not the kind of candidate to get the Tea Partiers’
blood running,” Mezey said, referring to a nascent movement of
fiscal conservatives. “He’s a moderate, middle-of-the-road
candidate. He’s been pro-choice, pro-gay rights, anti-gun.”

Roosevelt University political analyst Paul Green said:
“These Tea Party guys are riding high right now. But Illinois
is a coffee state; there aren’t going to be a lot of tea
drinkers here.”

What had once been considered a safe Senate seat for the
Democrats, the vacant Illinois seat has become one of five
“toss-up” races where Democrats are in danger of losing,
according to the Cook Political Report.

Two other Senate seats where Democratic incumbents are not
running again — in Delaware and North Dakota — are likely to
switch to the Republican column, while four Republican-held
Senate seats are considered toss-ups, the Cook Report said.

Each party has 18 Senate seats up for election. Republicans
now hold 41 and Democrats 57, with two independents usually
voting with the Democrats in the 100-seat chamber.

Brown’s victory cost the Democrats their 60-vote threshold
that had permitted the party to overcome Republican procedural
roadblocks.

DEMOCRATS DOMINATE

Over the past 40 years, Illinois has had seven Democratic
and two Republican U.S. senators — the last Republican was
moderate Peter Fitzgerald who retired in 2005 after just one
term. Democrats hold all major state-wide offices and are in
the majority in both houses of the Illinois legislature.

Recent political setbacks for Democrats include an indicted
and impeached governor, Rod Blagojevich, and a state government
seemingly paralyzed by expanding budget deficits.

Blagojevich’s corruption trial is set to begin in June,
making headlines as the Senate campaign gets into full swing.

“The Illinois seat is going to be top of the Republican
priority list, not for symbolic reasons that it’s Obama’s home
state, but because it’s one of the most likely seats for them
to win,” said political analyst Dick Simpson of the University
of Illinois at Chicago.

Simpson predicted an expensive, bruising campaign for the
seat occupied by Roland Burris, a Blagojevich appointee who is
not running. Among the charges against Blagojevich is that he
tried to sell the seat after Obama was elected president.

Stock Report

(Editing by Mohammad Zargham and Howard Goller)

PREVIEW-Could Illinois’ US Senate race copy Massachusetts?