Why do our Senate candidates only show us love when we neglect them?
For the first four months after the Feb. 2 primary, Mark Kirk took Illinois for granted. He refused to hold a press conference, refused to tell newspapers where he was campaigning, and even blew off local TV reporters at Downstate stops. His press secretary answered all inquiries with bland, boilerplate quotes.
All that changed in late May, when the Giannoulias campaign leaked oppo research showing that Kirk had exaggerated his military record. Kirk gave contrite interviews to the Tribune and the Sun-Times. Lately, he’s been holding press conferences where he wears a dark suit and a power tie, stands in front of an American flag and behind a bank of microphones, and talks at length about the Great Lakes, immigration, jobs and the economy. Cameras click. He points at reporters, calling them by their first names.
Kirk is trying to look senatorial. Like his warnings that Illinois’ financial problems may turn the state into “another Greece” (a fallacious comparison, some say), his behavior is an indirect jab at his opponent, a reminder that, with 10 years in the House of Representatives and 50 years on Earth, Mark Kirk is the man with gravitas in this race. Skipping a step on his road to the U.S. Senate, he's gone from acting as though he didn’t need to run for the office to acting as though he’s already won it.
Of course, Kirk also has to put himself out there because, after months and months of leading this race, he’s suddenly trailing Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias. A Rasmussen Reports poll taken last week had Kirk behind Giannoulias, 40-39.
Lately, it’s Giannoulias who has seemed invisible. Giannoulias hasn’t delivered a policy address since he and Kirk both spoke to the Metropolitan Planning Council on June 21. Giannoulias’s campaign points out that he answered questions at events over the 4th of July weekend, and has consistently been more available to the media than Kirk. That’s true, but Kirk’s wonky press conferences have allowed him to take the initiative on the issue of cleaning up the Great Lakes, an issue on which Giannoulias actually has more progressive ideas.
While Kirk was making his rubber-chicken speech in Northbrook, Giannoulias was attending fundraisers in a trial lawyers’ convention in Vancouver and meeting fundraisers in Los Angeles -- an itinerary that came out only after the National Republican Senatorial Committee tipped off reporters.
But Giannoulias is in the lead now. That's why he's keeping time with other states -- even other countries! Well, Alexi, just wait until the next survey comes out. We may decide we like Mark better after all.