If Rep. Mark Kirk’s ’81 (R.-Ill.) six percent lead over Illinois State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias holds in the race for the Illinois Senate seat currently held by Sen. Roland W. Burris (D.-Ill.), Kirk will join a short list of Cornell graduates that have earned spots in the more selective branch of Congress.
Kirk, who graduated cum laude from Cornell with a B.A. in history, handily won the Republican primary earlier this month, carrying 56 percent of the vote to real estate developer Patrick Hughes’ 19 percent. No other candidate earned more than two percent.
The former Cornellian, however, will likely face a much more competitive general election in the left-leaning state of Illinois. Giannoulias, who won a tightly-contested democratic primary with 39 percent of the vote to David Hoffman’s 34 percent, is championing several issues that remain important to Democratic voters.
Giannoulias has called for massive health care reform, with the inclusion of a government-run public option, as well as proposals that would create a one-year payroll taxholiday for workers making less than $75,000 and a lending program for small businesses through the Small Business Administration.
Kirk may fare better, though, than Republican candidates from Illinois have in the past, as he is seen as a moderate — something that has angered several staunch conservatives within the party. Though he does favor traditionally conservative issues, such as reducing government expenditures and opposing progressive taxes, he has defended abortion rights for women and has traditionally voted in favor of alternative energy initiatives and lowering the country’s oil and coal dependence, according to ontheissues.org — a website that tracks the voting tendencies of congressman and senators.
The Illinois senate seat belonged to President Obama, before he vacated it to run for the presidency, and later was at the center of controversy when former governor of Illinois Rod Blagojevich, who was responsible for appointing a replacement senator, allegedly attempted to auction the seat off to the highest bidder. Blagojevich eventually appointed Burris, who has said he will not be running for election in the fall. Blagojevich was impeached for abuse of power.
The G.O.P. has viewed this race as a real chance to pick up an additional senate seat, in conditions that Pat Brady, chairman of the state Republican Party, told The New York Times “were worse here [in Illinois] for Democrats than it was in Massachusetts” — where Sen. Scott Brown (R.-Mass.) defeated the heavily favored Democratic candidate. Democrats are hoping that they can maintain their dominance in Illinois, in spite of recent public opinion drops for the President and his party.
Prof. Theodore Lowi, government, downplayed the significance of this particular race.
“About Illinois, [if Giannoulias was to lose] that’s a blow for a home base to take a loss like that, but that’s not the making or the unmaking of the Democratic Party,” he stated.
According to Lowi, the President’s party has always, with the exception of Bill Clinton, lost a number of senate seats at the mid-term elections, but he predicted that the Democrats would likely not lose their majority.
Lowi also said that it is not unusual for a president’s public opinion to drop as they progress through the term, with every president except Ronald Reagan seeing a slide in their ratings.
Mike Schillawski ’10, president of the Cornell Democrats, said that due to limited resources, he did not anticipate that his group would be able to devote time to the Illinois race.
“When senate races occur in the same cycle that a lot of New York races occur, we’d rather stick to working in the New York area … Gillibrand and Schumer are both up for reelection,” he explained.
Konstantin Drabkin ’11, chair of the Cornell Republicans, could not be reached for comment.
Correction Feb. 16: The original version of this story incorrectly stated that Sen. Roland Burris (D-Ill.) had resigned from the Senate. in fact, Burris is currently a U.S. senator but has announced that he will not run for election this fall. The Sun regrets this error.