CHICAGO
04/20/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Illinois Senate Race 2010: Mark Kirk, Alexi Giannoulias Campaigns Heat Up

As Republicans and Democrats continue kicking the political football back and forth on a national level, the two contenders for Illinois Senate got in on all the partisan fun this week. Between Alexi Giannoulias' assertions that Mark Kirk is a Washington insider and Kirk's camp aligning Giannoulias with Rod Blagojevich, the people of Illinois are in for an exciting few months.

This week, the Giannoulias campaign released a poll that showed they held a 49 percent to 45 percent edge over Kirk. The Kirk camp tried refuting the numbers--later admitting, "this race will be close all year long," the National Journal reports.

As Kirk's people called Giannoulias a member of the "Blagojevich-Burris team," Giannoulias' campaigners got in on the name-calling as well, likening Kirk to former President George W. Bush:

"Mark Kirk likes to go around saying he's the moderate guy, but he's just not cutting into that group," Giannoulias campaign spokeswoman Kathleen Strand told Chicago Current. "His record is 10 years of voting in lockstep with President Bush."

Meanwhile, state Republican Party Chairman Pat Brady wants to hear more from Giannoulias regarding his family's problems at Broadway Bank:

"Alexi Giannoulias should stop hiding and start answering questions about Broadway Bank," Brady said in a statement. "It's time for that talk."

On Wednesday, Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly discussed the possibility of certain blue states turning red come November--and Kirk's name was brought up by Fox News analyst Charles Krauthammer:

"He's a congressman. He's a centrist. He's quite popular. He's running against a reasonably unimpressive Democrat who came out of the primaries. So, under normal circumstances, the strong candidate will beat a weak one."

"However, as you say, it's a blue state. I think if the election were held today, Kirk wins. But I think that the Republican fortunes are not going to remain this strong and good into the end of the year. So it's possible that it will be a real -- it will be a dead heat right there."

As conservatives look to Kirk as the Scott Brown of Illinois, some locals are saying he has moved too far to the right in recent years.

Steve Rhodes of the Beachwood Reporter wrote Thursday that "up until his recent turn into right-wing loony land, I had always respected Mark Kirk" and went on to republish an interview with Kirk he did for Chicago magazine in 2000--when Kirk was "an impressive candidate then with a bright future."