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Obama Stumps for Democrat Seeking His Old Illinois Senate Seat

President Barack Obama told Illinois Democrats yesterday that Republican victories in November would mark a reversal for the country, as the president sought to bolster support for the man seeking his former U.S. Senate seat.

“Do we go back to the policies of the past? Or do we keep this country moving forward,” he said at a downtown Chicago hotel during an event for Alexi Giannoulias, an Obama basketball buddy, Illinois state treasurer and a candidate whose campaign has struggled amid the failure of his family’s bank.

Giannoulias, 34, and his Republican opponent, Mark Kirk, 50, have spent much of the campaign debating who is the more scandalized. The Democrat has dealt with questions about Broadway Bank, while the Republican has been forced to apologize for repeatedly exaggerating his biography.

In his remarks introducing Obama, Giannoulias said Kirk, a five-term congressman from Chicago’s northern suburbs, supported every “budget and economic policy that created this horrifying recession.”

The Republican National Committee called Obama hypocritical for raising money for a failed banker, after criticizing “fat-cat bankers” last year in connection with the financial crisis.

“As a self-proclaimed champion of increased transparency and ethical standards, voters across Illinois would expect President Obama to be more critical of a banker who has ties to mobsters and has a history of shady loans to convicted felons,” RNC spokesman Ryan Tronovitch said in a statement.

Family Bank

Giannoulias worked at the bank from 2002 through 2006 as a senior loan officer and vice president. Some of the loans during his tenure that have generated controversy involve a convicted bookmaker and prostitution-ring promoter, and a family later accused of having connections to organized crime.

Obama called Giannoulias a friend who would be an advocate for “ordinary” Americans.

“I know his character,” he said. “I know how committed he is to public service for all the right reasons.”

Obama’s swing through Chicago was projected to net about $2.5 million for Democrats, including about $1 million for Giannoulias.

Those at the Giannoulias event were required to pay between $1,000 and $2,400. Obama later appeared at an event to benefit the Democratic National Committee where admission was a minimum of $250.

‘Best Opportunity’

“You’ve got to understand what’s at stake here, because the other side does,” Obama told donors at the Chicago Cultural Center, as he spoke about November’s election. “They see this as their best opportunity.”

Obama’s third fundraising stop of the day, also to benefit the DNC, was at the home of billionaire Neil Bluhm, with an admission price was $30,400 per person. Bluhm, managing principal of Walton Street Capital LLC of Chicago, was a fundraiser for Obama’s 2008 presidential bid.

The amount Obama raised for Giannoulias in a single event was roughly equal to what the candidate had raised during the entire quarter that ended June 30. He raised less than half as much as Kirk during that quarter and had only about one-fourth as much in the bank.

Obama’s visit on behalf of Giannoulias was part of a White House effort to help his party hold on to majorities in the House and Senate. A Democratic loss of the Illinois seat would boost Republican chances of gaining the 10 they need to win control of the Senate.

Fundraising Visits

Since June, Giannoulias has had fundraising visits from Vice President Joe Biden, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Obama senior adviser David Axelrod, White House Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina and 2008 presidential campaign manager David Plouffe, who is helping the administration in the midterm campaign.

Obama’s fifth trip to Chicago since his inauguration in January 2009 came as Broadway Bank was in the headlines again this week because of a newly reported 2006 loan to convicted Illinois influence peddler Antoin “Tony” Rezko.

Giannoulias’s aides monitored developments at a federal courthouse two blocks from the downtown hotel where Obama spoke, fearing a verdict in the trial of Rod Blagojevich could steal their news coverage of the presidential visit. The former Illinois governor stands accused, among other things, of trying to sell Obama’s old Senate seat to the highest bidder.

Control of Senate

The race in Illinois to replace Senator Roland Burris, a Democrat appointed by Blagojevich, is one of 12 Senate races rated as tossups by the non-partisan Cook Political Report, based in Washington.

According to a Rasmussen Reports survey taken July 26, Giannoulias led Kirk 43 percent to 41 percent. The survey had a margin of error of plus-or-minus 4 percentage points.

The latest wrinkle involving the race has resurrected an adage that long crystallized Chicago’s reputation for political corruption: vote early and often.

Illinois voters in November will vote twice for that one elected office. The double voting, prompted by a judge’s ruling last week, is the result of a lawsuit filed after no special election was held to fill the seat after Obama left it.

The voters will pick a replacement for the remaining two months of Obama’s original term and someone to begin a six-year term in January 2011, creating the possibility that Kirk or Giannoulias could win the shorter term and lose the longer one.

While Burris isn’t seeking a full term, the Associated Press reported yesterday that he plans to challenge the ruling that would bump him from office in November.

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