In a hotly contested and highly divisive race for President Obama's former Senate seat, Republican Mark Kirk has pulled ahead of his Democratic opponent Alexi Giannoulias in recent polling.
A survey released by Public Policy Polling Tuesday showed Kirk with a 37-33 lead over Giannoulias, though nearly seven months remain before the general election in November.
Perhaps the most important figure in the crosstabs of the polling is support by party. Mark Kirk won support from 77 percent of Republicans, while only 54 percent of Democrats supported Giannoulias. More than a third of Democrats were still undecided in the race.
The large mass of undecided Democrats are the critical bloc of voters in this race. If they come home to Giannoulias he'll probably still win- this continues to be a very Democratic state. But if they -- unhappy with both Giannoulias and Pat Quinn -- decide to just stay home, or even worse to vote Republican, Kirk has a pretty decent shot at winning this.
Meanwhile, The Capitol Fax blog reports that Giannoulias' aggregate numbers have fallen off in recent weeks, with Talking Point Memo's PollTracker showing Kirk pulling ahead of Giannoulias in late March.
Also of note is that both candidates are trending downward. Rich Miller, in column for the Southtown Star, says the reason for this trend is that both candidates have run pretty terrible campaigns so far.
Miller mentions Kirk's anti-health reform stance, and "repeal" promise that came back to bite him, and also says that running as an anti-Obama Republican in Illinois will not win him an election. As for Giannoulias, Miller says that using his Broadway Bank experience in his campaign for state treasurer ended up biting him as well:
Trouble is, the bank made some loans to some highly unsavory characters, including folks with cute Outfit nicknames like "Jaws" Giorango. Many of those loans have since gone bad and the heat has intensified on Giannoulias as the federal government has demanded that the family come up with over $80 million to keep the bank alive.
Giannoulias told everybody who would listen that he didn't know about the criminal histories of the alleged Outfit types until 2006, when he ran for treasurer. But his brother, a more senior bank officer, recently admitted that he knew about their criminal pasts when he made the loans. If his brother knew, it stands to reason that Alexi should also have known. Either way, though, Kirk's life just got a whole lot easier.
Ultimately, though, the race has more than half a year left to run, and how those undecided Democrats move in the interim will be the deciding factor in November's election.