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Biden Visit Shines Welcome Spotlight On Giannoulias

By Kyle Trygstad

Vice President Biden is heading to Chicago Monday amidst an uncomfortable time in Illinois politics. Former Democratic Governor Rod Blagojevich is on trial on corruption charges, and new polling shows voters in the Democratic leaning state unexcited about both parties' ticket-topping candidates.

Still, the White House clearly sees an opportunity to hold on to President Obama's former Senate seat. As the Chicago Sun-Times' Lynn Sweet noted, Biden's far from the only White House attaché trekking to Illinois this month to assist Democratic Senate nominee Alexi Giannoulias with fundraising -- Education Secretary Arne Duncan visits today, Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina on Saturday and 2008 campaign manager David Plouffe on June 30.

Republican Mark Kirk continues to struggle with ongoing revelations of embellishing his military resume and politicking while on active duty that have hurt him in the polls. Until this week, Kirk had led Giannoulias in the last five public polls. But a recent survey from the Democratic polling firm Public Policy Polling finds the two in a statistical tie, with Giannoulias up 1 point.

Since April, Kirk's unfavorable rating has risen 8 points, while the North Shore congressman's favorable rating stayed stagnant. But Giannoulias, who's facing his own trouble with the failing of his family-owned bank, has yet to capitalize. According to the poll, he leads with 31 percent to Kirk's 30 percent, with Green Party candidate LeAlan Jones taking 14 percent and a quarter of voters undecided.

"Voters in Illinois are tuning into a soap opera not an election," said PPP president Dean Debnam "The Senate election is about scandals not issues. The candidate who can turn the focus of the race from their personal issues to the real issues will have the best chance of winning over undecideds."

Meanwhile, Gov. Pat Quinn, who stepped in following Blagojevich's impeachment and won a close and competitive primary against Dan Hynes, has yet to excite the base. In fact, PPP found that 37 percent of Democrats disapprove of the job he's doing as governor and a quarter have no opinion.

"Illinois Democrats seem to be disenchanted by both of the party's leading candidates this year, which could end up aiding Republicans across the ticket," said Debnam. "For Quinn to win this race he needs to reinstate voters' confidence in his ability to be a state administrator but ultimately, and more importantly, reunite Illinois Democrats."

Luckily for Quinn, Republican Bill Brady is coming off a tight primary as well and isn't polling much better. Brady leads 34 percent to 30 percent for Quinn, with Green Party candidate Rich Whitney taking 9 percent and 27 percent undecided.

As for the Senate race, Biden, who's been the leading campaign surrogate for the White House so far, should be a shot in the arm for Giannoulias next week. Not only is it a clear sign that the White House is firmly behind his candidacy, but his visit could also help open the gates to future fundraising as well.

"We are excited to have the Vice President and other top surrogates come out to Illinois and campaign with Alexi, and we welcome their support," Giannoulias spokesman Matt McGrath told RCP. "Their presence signifies the importance of this race, and will further serve to remind Illinois voters that as President Obama is working to clean up the mess he inherited -- an economy on the brink of ruin, and record unemployment -- Congressman Kirk has stood in the way every time."