The national TV networks like to call elections as soon as the polls close. But the pundits do it even earlier: like, six months before the polls.
At approximately 4:30 p.m. on April 23, as workmen scraped the letters “Broadway Bank” of a window at the corner of Broadway and Elmdale, the National Journal, the Washington Post, the Cook Political Report and Capitol Fax all issued a major projection: Mark Kirk has won the race for Barack Obama’s old Senate seat in Illinois.
“Even if Obama’s popularity is off the charts, it’s not going to be able to rescue 34-year old state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, whose family bank was just taken over by the FDIC,” wrote the National Journal, adding that “in a contest of which moniker is more unpopular this year -- failed banker or D.C. insider -- I'm guessing that the banker wins. Especially when that banker also happens to be responsible for the state’s finances."
The Cook Political Report, a handicapping sheet edited by old D.C. hand Charlie Cook, changed its assessment of the race from “Toss-up” to “Lean Republican,” remarking that “some Democratic strategists believe that Giannoulias can weather this crisis and remain a competitive general election candidate” and will give Giannoulias a chance to prove he can still raise money and compete in the polls before looking for a replacement candidate.
And the Washington Post thinks “it’s worth noting that Republicans have been close to silent about Giannoulias since the bank’s failure,” and “seem to believe that keeping Giannoulias in the race represents their best chance at winning the seat.”
Actually, Kirk hasn’t been silent. He’s been passive-aggressive. When Broadway Bank went down last Friday, Kirk was campaigning in Harrisburg, but refused to do a three-minute interview with local TV station WSIL. The Broadway Bank failure is almost as good as a drunk-driving arrest or an adultery scandal: the media spread the dirt around, while the opposing candidate insists he just wants to talk about the issues.
Kirk’s campaign didn’t even talk about Broadway Bank until Giannoulias released an ad that blamed Republicans for the bank’s closure. Once Kirk could say, “Alexi started it,” he issued a press release accusing Giannoulias of “pointing fingers when he finds himself in an inconvenient situation.”
Rich Miller of Capitol Fax points out that he called the election even earlier: nearly a year ago, when Lisa Madigan refused to run for the Senate. (To be fair, Miller's also been vigilant in noting when the media goes overboard.)
“Kirk is a nearly perfect Republican statewide candidate,” Miller writes. “Historically, the GOP must win suburban Republican women to defeat the Democrats statewide. Kirk’s pro-choice, anti-gun positions are right in line with theirs.”
The Senate election is going to get even more attention today, since President Obama will be appearing on the same stage as Giannoulias in Quincy. The national media have already sketched out their profile of Giannoulias: inexperienced young politician who blew an easy election in a blue state by making bad loans that caused his family’s bank to fail.
And Mark Kirk?
Well, they don’t know too much about him, because he’s not giving interviews, but he appears to be a lucky suburbanite who picked up a Senate seat when it fell out of a truck labeled “Broadway Bank.”