Is David Axelrod Trying to Muscle Alexi G Out of the Senate Race?

05/10/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

After the Chicago Sun-Times gossip columnist Mike Sneed reported a cute item last week that Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan was at the White House and had taken home to her daughters "two boxes of presidential M&M candy," I wondered if Obama aides Rahm Emanuel and/or David Alexrod had attempted to persuade Madigan that she should replace Alexi Giannoulias, the deeply flawed Democratic candidate for Barack Obama's Senate seat--assuming that they could somehow elbow Alexi out for the good of his basketball buddy Obama and the party.

The Sneed item was limited to the M&Ms.

Madigan was the Obama camp's favored candidate for last month's U.S. Senate primary. She was so favored that she was called to the White House last year to urge her to get into the race. They did not want Giannoulias to run. They probably hoped that his primary opponent David Hoffman would win--and not surprisingly.

Madigan was in Washington--not just to score M&Ms, but for the spring meeting of the National Association of Attorneys General--pushing, with her colleagues, for the Senate to pass legislation to create, according to a press release, an "independent agency to protect consumers from excesses that spurred [the] current economic crisis." Giannoulias was in Chicago volunteering that his family's bank, Broadway, might go under.

I called Madigan's deputy press secretary, Natalie Bauer, to find out if there were any off-the-record appointments on Madigan's dance card. Yes, Bauer said, Madigan did see Obama at the White House, but at a gathering with other attorneys general. I asked Bauer if her boss met with Rahm Emanuel or David Axelrod. Yes she met with Axelrod in the White House earlier last week. I asked if the possibility of Alexi stepping aside and Lisa stepping in was discussed. "That was not discussed," Bauer said.

For Giannoulias's Republican opponent, Congressman Mark Kirk, opposition research consists of looking up recent stories in the Chicago dailies: the millions the Giannoulias family took out of the bank; the shady characters, as in a mobster and Tony Rezko, to whom Alexi Giannoulias lent money when he was the bank's chief loan officer; and the tax breaks the family will reap, while the tax payers get stuck for millions, if the bank goes under.

This week, Mike Sneed reports, Alexi Giannoulias was also at the White House--and on Tuesday he met with David Axelrod: "Beleaguered U.S. Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias, whose bid for President Obama's old Senate seat needs an alley-oop pass, hit the White House party for Greek Independence Day on Tuesday, chatted with senior Obama adviser David Axelrod..."

And Sneed's Sun-Times colleague , Carol Marin, offers a prediction in her Wednesday column:

Giannoulias has tried to get out in front of the seemingly imminent failure of his family's Broadway Bank, but there's no way to put that story behind him as long as the FDIC could move in at any time and take it over. Giannoulias met with David Axelrod at the White House.... At the same time, Republicans were sending out dispatches with a reminder of President Obama's recent denunciation of "fat cats who are getting rewarded for their failure . . . bankers don't need another vote in the U.S. Senate." Expect heat on Alexi to exit the kitchen."

Last Friday Natalie Bauer emailed me the press release in which Madigan calls for the creation of a new federal agency, the Consumer Financial Protection Agency (CFPA). While Giannoulias and his brother, who now runs Broadway, are certainly the little guys in this complicated story--Broadway isn't Citibank, but it was still raking in millions for the Giannoulias family--Lisa Madigan looks like the White Knight by comparison. According to her press release,

Consumers deserve a strong federal regulator that will protect them, instead of looking out for the bailed-out banks...A CFPA will ensure that every time a family takes out a loan--whether it's for a home or a car or a financial emergency--they will be protected by basic rules of fair dealing.

Lisa Madigan, of course, is not without her own family baggage. She is the daughter of Michael J. Madigan, the speaker of the Illinois House, and widely considered the most powerful politician in the state. His own business practices as partner in a Chicago law firm representing clients appealing their commercial property tax assessments have recently attracted notice in the press. But those stories analyzing the resulting alleged conflicts of interest will wait until the daughter actually jumps into this race--or runs for Governor or for the U.S. Senate sometime in the near future.