Illinois' Senate candidates were grilled on their verbal missteps, flip-flops and opinions on controversial topics in Tuesday night's debate in Chicago. Republican Mark Kirk and Democrat Alexi Giannoulias aggressively challenged each other on their positions, with the latter, for example, asking Kirk three different times whether he was shot at in a plane while in Iraq. The Senate race is currently a toss-up, according to Huffington Post Pollster. Some other highlights from the debate:
IMMIGRATION: Giannoulias said unequivocally that he supports the DREAM Act, which would provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who came to the country as children and are pursuing higher education. He also said he believes the country needs comprehensive immigration reform and applauded Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) for his work on the issue. Kirk touted himself as the "Spanish-speaking candidate" and pointed out that he went to school in Mexico. He said that the first step the United States needs to take is to "close down the border" and start "understanding" who is coming into the country. When asked how he would vote if the DREAM Act came up to a vote before all this is accomplished, he replied, "This is not the time to do that." Kirk has faced significant pressure from immigration activists on the DREAM Act.
VOTER FRAUD: Political observers have raised questions about Kirk's plan to deploy "voter integrity squads" on election day to "key, vulnerable precincts, for example, South and West sides of Chicago, Rockford, Metro East, where the other side might be tempted to jigger the numbers somewhat." NBC Chicago's Ward Room pointed out that those sections "are the four most African-American sections of Illinois."
Kirk justified his plan in Tuesday's debate, pointing out the rampant corruption in Illinois and saying that having both campaigns send out vote watchers would be a plus. Giannoulias replied by accusing Kirk of trying to "suppress the African-American vote." "Where on the South and West side of Chicago was there voter fraud?" challenged Giannoulias. "Tell us." Kirk simply said there was "corruption in the state of Illinois" and pointed to a "recent conviction" without specifically naming any examples.
CAMPAIGN FINANCE REFORM: The Supreme Court's Citizen United case, opening the doors to increased corporate spending in elections, was a hot topic at the debate. Kirk said that all federal candidates should disclose campaign contributions within 24 hours online and all donors to independent expenditures should have to be made public. However, he said he would not vote in favor of a constitutional amendment nullifying the effects of Citizens United. Giannoulias said he would be in favor of such a move.
LGBT RIGHTS: Giannoulias said he is in favor of both the "immediate repeal" of Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT). "Almost 14,000 men and women were willing to die for this country; we told them they're not good enough," he said. "Meanwhile, we are letting felons and other individuals into the military." Kirk noted that he voted against repealing the ban, criticizing the Obama administration for not having a post-repeal plan. "I'm totally confused as to where the administration is," he said, adding, "If you remove a policy -- speaking from some military experience -- you've got to be able to then look in the eyes of a first sergeant or a chief and say what is the new policy."
Giannoulias placed himself to the left of Obama, saying he is in favor of "full marriage equality." Kirk said he opposes same-sex marriage but supports civil unions and doesn't want a "federal takeover" of marriage laws.
SUPREME COURT: On Tuesday, ABC News reported that Brandeis University Professor Anita Hill recently received a voice mail message from Virginia Thomas, the conservative activist and wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, asking her to apologize to the justice for accusing him of sexual harassment in the 90s. When asked about whether Hill owed an apology to Thomas -- or the other way around -- Kirk avoided answering, saying it was more important to look forward. He said that he opposed Justice Sonia Sotomayor but supported Justice Elena Kagan. When asked if he would have voted for for Thomas, Kirk looked uncomfortable and said, "For Justice Thomas, I think Justice Thomas was confirmed. He's a good Supreme Court justice, but I will tell you, I'm looking forward."
Giannoulias also avoided answering Stephanopoulos' question about Hill and said he couldn't think of a sitting Supreme Court justice nominated by a Republican president that he would have supported.