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12/18/2009

U.S. Senate Deja Vu?

  For this reporter, there was one hour during the past week that set the tone for the Illinois democratic primary campaign for the U.S. Senate.  It happened during the candidates' debate at Chicago's Union League Club.

  Front-runner Alexi Giannoulias wobbled.  David Hoffman established himself as a contender.  Cheryle Robinson Jackson smiled.

  Illinois Treasurer Giannoulias, according to the latest Chicago Tribune Poll was favored by 31% of voters surveyed during the first week of December.  He's followed by on-leave Urban League president Jackson (17%), former Chicago Inspector General Hoffman (9%) and Chicago Attorney Jacob Meister (1%).

  While Ms. Jackson would seem to pose the most imminent threat to his front-runner status, Giannoulias launched what appeared to those watching as an unprovoked attack against Hoffman who Giannoulias said had "railed against Wall Street Banks" while using profits from shares in those banks to self-fund Hoffman's campaign.

  Hoffman responded saying he was "thrilled" that Giannoulias brought up the subject of banks and quickly counterattacked.  He resurrected the allegations that the Treasurer, when vice-president and chief loan officer at the Giannoulias family-owned Broadway Bank, made bad real estate loans that caused the bank to be "now one of the worst-performing in the country". 

  Giannoulias told Hoffman not to attack his family.  But Hoffman pointed out that the bank vice-presidency was Giannoulias' "only other job" in life besides Illinois Treasurer and that job performance was fair game. 

  While the Broadway Bank reportedly is in worse shape today than it was in 2006, the allegations about the loans Giannoulias made as vice president are old news that he survived during his campaign for Treasurer.  So the debate watchers and reporters were left to wonder why the candidate "opened the door" for Hoffman, a former assistant U.S. Attorney who feasted on the red meat.   Also, by throwing the first punch, Giannoulias came across as someone other than the nice guy hugging factory workers we see in his TV Ads.

  At a post debate news conference, Hoffman said Giannoulias attacked him because he (and not Jackson) poses the real threat to Giannoulias' "lead" in the race.  Giannoulias, who left the Union League Club without comment, said later in the day that he fired first to "set the record straight" about statements Hoffman had made elsewhere during the campaign.

  Watching all of this with her ever-present smile was Ms. Jackson.  It is the unspoken but certain strategy of her campaign that the path to victory for an African-American female like herself requires having two white men like Giannoulias and Hoffman to have a close, one-on-one contest within the primary election.

  Remember Carol Moseley Braun?

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