- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 10, 2010

Democrat Alexi Giannoulias, in a battle for a Senate seat in Illinois, reasserted his commitment Sunday to advancing progressive politics in Washington if elected while trying to distance himself from those same policies, which President Obama has used with limited success in his first two years.

Mr. Giannoulias, the Illinois state treasurer, acknowledged during a debate on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that he plans to lead a progressive caucus in Congress and said, “If more stimulus means more tax cuts, … then I’m for it.”

He is in a tight race with Republican Rep. Mark Steven Kirk for the seat once occupied by Mr. Obama. Polls have the candidates separated by fewer than 4 percentage points.

Mr. Giannoulias said throughout the roughly 30 minute nationally televised debate that the administration’s economic recovery plan was “not perfect” and that the bank bailout included “missed opportunities” and needed “more oversight.”

Each candidate coolly stated his positions and challenged his opponent, a departure from what has become a race marked by political scandal and each making dubious claims about their past and attacks that highlight the claims.

Mr. Kirk acknowledged that he misrepresented his military career, while Mr. Giannoulias still could not provide a clear answer about whether he knew his family’s failed community bank made loans to convicted criminals.

However, when Mr. Kirk, in his fifth House term, said he has evolved into a fiscal hawk, Mr. Giannoulias replied, “He’s told some whoppers, but this may be the biggest of them all.”

Though the missteps and attacks have hurt both candidates, the race will still largely be decided on the issues that have come to define most midterms: jobs, taxes and the federal deficit.

Mr. Kirk said he wants to cut taxes and federal spending beyond earmarks and defense-budget items.

In addition to Mr. Giannoulias’ support for tax cuts for the middle class and small businesses, he wants to create more jobs and get the economy rolling again by increasing access to capital.

“There’s millions on the sideline,” he said.

Mr. Kirk wants to repeal the president’s health care reform law.

Mr. Giannoulias called the legislation “far from perfect,” and added that “there’s a lot that needs to be done.”

However, he said he prefers fixing the shortcomings. “I think morally we shouldn’t have 51 million Americans without affordable, basic health care,” Mr. Giannoulias said.

Though winning the seat is crucial to the Republicans’ efforts this year to retake control of the Senate, political analysts see the race as a referendum on the president and his administration.

“The president put a lot of time and money into this race,” Republican strategist and former Bush administration official Karl Rove said on “Fox News Sunday.” “This should easily be in the Democrats’ [win] column.”

Chuck Todd, NBC’s political director and chief White House correspondent, said before the debate that a Republican winning the seat would be the “ultimate repudiation if you’re a former Illinois senator now sitting in the Oval Office.”

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