Primary Season Is Underway In Illinois

It's officially primary season, as Illinois voters are going to the polls today for the nation's first big-time primary elections of 2010. Up for grabs: President Obama's old Senate seat and the governorship of his home state.

The primaries have been tough--fraught with attacks that have fed a GOP storyline that Democrats in Illinois are "in disarray": State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, the frontrunner in the Senate race, has faced attacks over the bank that his family owns. Not long ago, it seemed as if Giannoulias would have this race in the bag; but with low turnout today, Chicago Inspector General David Hoffman (endorsed by the Chicago Tribune) and Cheryle Jackson, the other challenger, could fare better than previously thought.

Rasmussen has shown the race at Giannoulias 31%; Hoffman 23%; Jackson 13%. It's also shown Giannoulias faring better against the leading Republican, Rep. Mark Kirk. Democrats could be in a tough spot, either if Giannoulias loses, or if he wins and the bank attacks stick.

The governor's race has gotten a bit ugly, too: incumbent Pat Quinn faced an attack ad from Dan Hynes in which the popular former Chicago Mayor Harold Washington, who fired Quinn, called Quinn a "totally and completely undisciplined individual who thinks that governor is nothing but a large easel by which he can do his PR work." Ugly.

Analysts say it could be hard for Dems to hold onto Obama's former Senate seat, and the specter of Rod Blagojevich will loom even larger once the general election starts and the GOP message machines get amped up to full volume. If Kirk can take a lead in polls, it will be a morale booster for Republicans heading into November 2010.

If Democrats trail in Illinois, we'll hear about it as a potential Massachusetts redux: a GOP win in a Democratic state with a legacy to protect, Democrats falling prey to the fallout of corruption. People are used to corruption in Illinois--given the fate of the previous two governors before Quinn, it's actually even odds that the next governor will face federal prosecution, if you weigh your odds historically over the past several terms.

But after today, the Democrats will have their candidates, and the races stand to become national focal points as the Democratic bruises start to heal.