06/30/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Axelrod Defends Giannoulias As Cornyn Suggests Dems Want Him Out

Alexi GIannoulias has been getting some much-needed backing from the White House in recent days.

For months, since news broke that his family's Broadway Bank was on the brink of collapse, countless reports have speculated as to whether Giannoulias would leave the race for U.S. Senate. His opponent, Mark Kirk, has made the bank a central issue of the race, and many believed the White House no longer viewed him as a viable candidate.

In the run-up to Wednesday's visit by President Obama to Quincy, Ill., the media focused on statements made by Giannoulias a week ago, saying that he hadn't yet been invited. Of course, no one had been invited yet; ultimately, he was asked to come along with all other top state officials.

Just prior to the event, Giannoulias was asked by reporters if his campaign "needed a presidential hug."

Of course, as HuffPost Chicago reported yesterday, he got one, literally and symbolically: along with the double-back-pat, Obama gave Giannoulias a shout-out as a "soon-to-be senator."

Then on Thursday, John Cornyn, the Republican senator from Texas who heads the GOP's political operation, revived the theme, suggesting the White House was trying to muscle Giannoulias out of the race.

The Sun-Times' Lynn Sweet has the White House's response:

"No one here is trying to 'muscle' him from the race. That should have been clear from the president's comment yesterday," White House senior adviser David Axelrod said Thursday. "Kind of ironic that on the day that Gov. [Charlie] Crist was forced out of the Florida Republican primary that Sen. Cornyn would be suggesting we would muscle someone out of a Senate race."

Cornyn insisted that the Republican Party is still targeting the seat heavily, but stronger backing from Obama, who remains popular in Illinois, might be a well-timed boost for Giannoulias's campaign.