Spoiler Alert: Kirk, Giannoulias at Mercy of Third Parties - NBC Chicago
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Spoiler Alert: Kirk, Giannoulias at Mercy of Third Parties



    Alexi Giannoulias and Mark Kirk are tied in their rambling, invective-strewn, parsimonious race for President Obama's former Senate seat -- but both candidates are so hobbled by their own mistakes they're leaving an opening for third parties to seriously alter the election results.

    That's the conclusion of a recent Chicago Tribune poll, a statewide poll of 600 registered likely voters which shows Giannoulias and Kirk tied with 34% of the vote.

    Giannoulias, the first-term state treasurer, and Kirk, a five-term North Shore congressman, both had 34 percent in the statewide poll of 600 registered likely voters conducted Aug. 28 through Wednesday. Another 22 percent of voters were undecided.

    The softness in support opens the door for third-party candidates to play a spoiler role in the close contest. LeAlan Jones, the Green Party candidate, had 6 percent and Libertarian Party candidate Mike Labno had 3 percent in the survey. The poll has an error margin of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

    The long and short of it:

    • Republicans are undecided about Kirk -- he was an unknown and trended centrist before this race.
    • Giannoulias has a bad rep -- questions about Broadway Bank have voters wondering.
    • Giannoulias trails Kirk among independents, and weaker support among Democrats than Kirk has among Republicans.

    The race is also a target for campaign money from both national parties.

    The truth is, neither party is satisfied with their candidate. But Kirk seems to have the edge here: he has more than 4x the campaign funds, plus he's likely to get a lift from the Tea Party. The Democrats don't have the benefit of a similar partisan force, not to mention they're likely to take the lion's share of the blame for the economy. To the extent that Illinois voters are swayed by national themes, Kirk is the clear beneficiary here.

    On a local level, Giannoulias has the name recognition, especially in the collar counties -- those surrounding Cook, and which trend heavy Democrat -- which don't really know who Mark Kirk is.

    End of day, if national themes, money and undecided voters are the force modifiers on a tied race, the victory will go to Kirk.