Friday, May 28, 2010

Who’s backing whom? Does it matter?

Call it an intriguing week, if you will, for Alexi Giannoulias.

The White House (which many political pundits is determined to believe will snub the Illinois Democratic Party’s nominee for a U.S. Senate seat) is sending in several supporters who are meant to help Giannoulias come up with the campaign cash he needs to be competitive – while also gaining some public attention for his political bid.

YET THE BULK of the attention this week went to the man who said his support of Giannoulias is less than overwhelming. Ask the typical person who follows electoral politics what happened to Giannoulias this week, and we’re likely to hear the rhetoric about how he got dumped on by Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr., D-Ill.

Now I don’t mean to underestimate the significance of the congressman from the Far South Side and surrounding suburbs admitting publicly he has enough respect for Giannoulias’ biggest opponent, Rep. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., that he could consider publicly endorsing him.

Both Jackson and Kirk serve on an appropriations subcommittee that gives them a say over foreign policy issues. I find it encouraging that men from the South Side and the North Shore can work together and not automatically fall into the partisan rhetoric that is espoused as hard-and-fast fact by too many people in this country.

But I do not expect Jackson to ever go any closer to a Kirk endorsement than the rhetoric he spewed this week.

FOR ONE THING, I can’t help but think that Kirk wants a direct tie to Jackson about as much as he wanted one to former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. Be honest, the “votes” that he had to be present for in Washington the night she was in suburban Rosemont weren’t that significant, and he could have missed them.

Jackson is likely to have his name dragged through the mud this summer, should the trial of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich proceed as planned. Republican operatives are counting on the concept of “guilt by association” dragging down the re-election campaigns of many government officials across Illinois.

If Jackson were to actually endorse Kirk, my response would be to watch to see how quickly Kirk formally renounced such a tie – unless he’s willing to tick off the social conservatives whom he is counting on to be his political base (many of whom worry that Kirk isn’t really ideological enough for their taste).

Excuse me for wondering if a formal Jackson endorsement of Kirk could be the biggest favor Jesse Jr. could do for Giannoulias.

BUT THERE IS another factor at work that makes me think this situation isn’t such a big deal – the fact that the people who actually comprise the political backing that allows Rep. Jackson to have any influence whatsoever (otherwise, who’d care who he wants to be U.S. senator?) are never going to back Kirk.

While I understand that a formal endorsement for Kirk would mean that the political workers who do their bidding at the behest of Jackson, Jr., would not be able to work their precincts on Giannoulias’ behalf, it’s not going to result in significant votes for the GOP.

Besides, I also remember the recent past with regards to Jackson, whom the political pundits like to point out was a backer of Barack Obama who made it possible for him to serve in the U.S. Senate, then have a credible political operation in Illinois that made it possible for him to beat the Democratic presidential candidate – Hillary R. Clinton – who was supposed to be unbeatable.

What I remember was that in the early moments of the 2008 presidential campaign, the “controversy” from the Illinois Second Congressional District was the Jackson split.

JESSE, JR., SUPPORTED Obama, while the congressman’s father, Rev. Jesse Jackson, had his reservations about the man from Hyde Park. That was a significant part of the rhetoric from early in the campaign that Obama wasn’t “black enough” to win the African-American vote, which wound up swinging overwhelming to him and remains a significant part of his support today.

Heck, we all remember the image from Election Night, with tears running down the face of Jackson the elder at the realization that he had lived long enough to see an African-American male be elected chief executive of the federal government.

My point is, he got over it. Somehow, I think Jackson, Jr., will get over his hangups too, particularly since he felt the need earlier this week to say that he doesn’t really oppose Giannoulias for the office.

So what we got this week was a whole lot of rhetoric from the Jackson camp, which seems like something we ought to expect every election cycle.

THAT IS COMBINED with announcements that during the month of June, Education Secretary (and former Chicago Public Schools chief) Arne Duncan, White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel’s deputy, Jim Messina, and Obama’s presidential campaign Manager David Plouffe (author of the campaign diary “The Audacity to Win”) all will be in Chicago for fund-raisers on behalf of Giannoulias.

In the case of Duncan, he also will do a public press event – meaning that the federal government will somehow try to share credit with Giannoulias for some acccomplishment on behalf of public education.

If anything, we ought to wonder why the White House feels the need to lay on so much support this early in the election cycle. That is a more signficant question to debate, rather than trying to figure out if Jesse Jackson, Jr., really likes Mark Kirk more than Alexi Giannoulias.


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