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Obama Endorsed Sheila Simon In 2007 Mayoral Race (VIDEO)

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Barack Obama's old Senate seat looks to be one of the most hotly contested races in 2010. But the President was keeping his distance from the state of Illinois early on, some say due to family bank problems plaguing Democratic candidate Alexi Giannoulias, who he later endorsed.

Still, Obama may be attracted to the state by an unlikely candidate: Sheila Simon, Pat Quinn's newly-minted running mate in the 2010 governor's race. According to Politico's Ben Smith, Simon gave Obama a crucial endorsement in his 2004 race for U.S. Senate, the seat that ultimately propelled him to the presidency.

And Obama acknowledges the debt he owes Simon. In 2007, as she was fighting unsuccessfully to unseat the Republican mayor of Carbondale, Simon received a boost from then-Senator Obama, in the form of this 30-second spot. (Scroll down for video.)

Smith speculates that Simon might bring the president back to his home state to campaign for some troubled Dems:

Illinois Democrats are intensely aware of Obama's desire to stay out of the state's business but also aware of how many hooks they have into him and his circle. (Remember the ill-fated Olympics pitch?) Simon's presence on the ticket offers one more reason for him to campaign for Gov. Pat Quinn and the beleaguered Senate candidate, Alexi Giannoulias.

Watch Obama's endorsement of Sheila Simon: