Contributing Reporting By Tim Taliaferro
President Obama's senior adviser met on Wednesday with one of the three Democratic candidates running for Illinois' likely-to-be open Senate seat.
Illinois State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias stopped by the White House during a trip to Washington to discuss his prospects for winning the party's nomination. Leaving the front lawn, he said he had met with Obama's close confidant, David Axelrod, to discuss the upcoming primary, which will take place in February 2010.
Giannoulias is the favored of three primary candidates running for the seat currently held (but likely to be vacated) by Sen. Roland Burris. A recent poll commissioned by his opponent, showed the state treasurer with the highest name identification of all candidates. Among voters, 26 percent said they supported his candidacy, which bested the 12 percent who backed former Chicago Urban League president Cheryle Robinson Jackson and the seven percent who supported David Hoffman, the former Chicago Inspector General and commissioner of the poll.
Giannoulias said he did not expect the White House to endorse in his race. But he did note that he was in a strong position to win the nomination, having raised $1.1 million in less than one month. The first-term treasurer currently has the endorsement of the SEIU, Illinois' largest union, and his $2.4 million in campaign cash includes none of his own personal wealth.
Regardless of who makes it out of the primary, the winning candidate will face obstacles to keep the seat in Democratic hands -- which seems likely to have been the point of the Axelrod meeting. The taint of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich and the ethics scandals that have surrounded Burris create obvious hurdles for the winning candidate. Meanwhile, the Republican running for the seat, Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill), has strong name identification in the state. And in a poll conducted by Colorado-based Magellan Data and Mapping Strategies he currently holds a 42-35 lead over Giannoulias in a hypothetical general election -- with 23 percent of voters undecided.
That said, Kirk has issues of his own, stemming mainly from his time in Washington and his increasingly sharp opposition to Obama's agenda (on health care reform in particular).
To date, Giannoulias has cast himself as a disciple of sorts to the president, whom he considers a close personal friend and mentor. The treasurer, who played basketball professionally in Greece, was a frequent presence in Obama's pick-up basketball games during the presidential race. And when he announced his candidacy for U.S. Senate, he stressed that he was proud to run for the seat "once held by my friend, my mentor and my inspiration, President Barack Obama."