Heated Debate in Illinois Between Democrat Alexi Giannoulias and Republican Mark Kirk

Oct 19, 2010 11:23pm

It was a heated debate in Illinois tonight between Rep. Mark Kirk and Alexi Giannoulias. Here is my colleague Amy Walter's analysis– and tune into "GMA" tomorrow morning for more on the debate.

ABC News' Amy Walter reports:

Democrat Alexi Giannoulias and Republican Mark Kirk didn’t hold anything back in tonight’s Illinois Senate debate, which was presented by ABC 7 and the League of Women Voters in Illinois and moderated by George Stephanopoulos.  

Giannoulias was more aggressive, but Kirk was able to counter punch and get in a few dings of his own. Both were also able to bob and weave their way out of answering some of the more pointed questions posed to them.  Neither, however, landed a knock-out punch.

The candidates spent the first 10 minutes of the debate defending their own personal shortcomings and the negative tone of the campaign. Both admitted to past mistakes, but each was quick to try to turn the focus back onto his opponent’s flaws.

Giannoulias worked hard to make Kirk, a 10-year House incumbent, the establishment candidate. “If you are thrilled with Washington, DC,” said the Illinois State Treasurer, then Kirk’s “your man.” For his part, Kirk, who represents a swing suburban Chicago district, presented himself as a centrist and an independent voice. “I am a fiscal conservative, a social moderate,” he said.

Kirk said he was against gay marriage but for civil unions. He also said that all third party groups, like those currently advertising in the state, should disclose their donors.

In this dark blue state a Republican candidate can’t afford to be seen as simply a rubber-stamp for the national Republican agenda. Kirk did, however, fall into DC speak when he used his closing statement to remind viewers that the winner of this seat will be seated immediately (there are two elections happening simultaneously, one for the remainder of President Obama’s term, the other for the 6-year term) and will play a significant role in the lame-duck session.

While Kirk stayed away from a full-throated embrace of the GOP agenda, Giannoulias was reading right from the Democratic playbook. He invoked Karl Rove often, called Kirk “bought and paid for by Wall Street firms,” and lamented that the Congressman simply represented “typical DC politics.”

Unlike many of his colleagues, Giannoulias would be happy to be seen as an “Obama Democrat.” For his part, Kirk wants voters to focus less on party ID and more on performance. In particular, he pointed to Giannoulias’ role as a loan officer in the family bank that made “risky” loans and lent money to unsavory characters, as well as Giannoulias’ tenure as State Treasurer at a time when Illinois is deeply in debt.

With neither candidate plowing new ground, it’s easy to understand why polls show so many voters still undecided on this race.

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