It’s been a rough stretch for Illinois Democratic Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias — and it could be getting a little bit rougher.
His family’s business, Broadway Bank, was seized by regulators last month. He’s had trouble getting robust support from a White House that originally preferred another candidate. And political writer Stu Rothenberg devoted a column last week to asking “Is it time for Democrats to shove Giannoulias out?”
Now, Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., who did not endorse anyone in the Democratic primary, is flirting with the idea of backing Republican nominee Mark Kirk in the general election.
“I like Alexi Giannoulias, but I have great respect for Mark Kirk and his service to the people of Illinois,” Jackson told POLITICO.
Jackson and Kirk work together on the House Appropriations Committee, on which both are senior members of the subcommittee that provides foreign aid.
It’s exceedingly rare for a lawmaker of one party to endorse a colleague of the other party — particularly within the same state — meaning Jackson lending his name to Kirk would be a bit of a shock to the political system and a blow to Giannoulias’s campaign.
If Jackson does go for Kirk — or even remains neutral, which seems more likely — Giannoulias will lose out on the veteran Democratic congressman’s political operation on Chicago’s South Side.
Giannoulias failed to attract the backing of any of Chicago’s three black congressmen in his primary race. Jackson was neutral, and Reps. Danny Davis and Bobby Rush endorsed one of Giannoulias’s rivals in a campaign he won with a plurality of just 39 percent.
Rush was openly dismissive of Giannoulias, telling The Hill in December 2009 that he was “afraid” of a Giannoulias-Kirk matchup. “The messenger has to stand before the message. And if the messenger is weak, then the message is weak,” he told the paper.
Though Giannoulias’s campaign did not respond to POLITICO’s request for a comment on Jackson’s role in the race, his backers have been working to unify the party behind the nominee.
Like all statewide Democratic candidates, Giannoulias will need strong turnout in Chicago to overcome the Republican tendencies of downstate Illinois. As of the most recent census, more than one-third of Chicagoans — and 15 percent of the state’s residents — are black. It would help on the ground level to have the backing of Chicago’s black lawmakers, including Jackson, who served as a co-chairman of President Barack Obama’s campaign and whose wife, Sandi, is a powerful city alderman.
By all measures, it’s a competitive race, and Giannoulias can ill afford to have any cracks in the traditional Democratic coalition.
Giannoulias’s camp released its own polling last week showing a neck-and-neck race with Kirk. But several independent surveys taken since the beginning of April have given Kirk a single-digit edge ranging as high as 8 percentage points.
Jackson’s endorsement wouldn’t likely translate into a big shift of votes to Kirk in the black community, but it could soften opposition. And it would be a strong symbol of Kirk’s ability to work across party and racial lines.
Kirk already is popular in the politically competitive Chicago suburbs he represents and has a strong relationship with the state’s pro-Israel voters and donors.
His campaign did not respond to a query about whether he would welcome an endorsement from Jackson, who is the son of two-time Democratic presidential candidate Jesse Jackson Sr. The younger Jackson has been subpoenaed by defense lawyers to testify in Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s corruption trial after prosecutors alleged that Blagojevich wanted to extract campaign contributions from other individuals in exchange for appointing Jackson to a Senate seat.
Jackson gave no timetable for when he might make a decision on whether — or which candidate — to endorse.
Published at 7:09 AM CDT on May 24, 2010