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Kirk and Giannoulias Spar

Entertaining and ugly -- the way a debate should be.

5:30 PM, Oct 10, 2010 • By DANIEL HALPER
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The most telling line of today’s Meet the Press debate between Illinois Republican congressman Mark Kirk and Democratic state treasurer Alexi Giannoulias came from the Democrat, who proclaimed: "I didn't know the extent of their activity." The line was in reference to the loans to well-known convicted mobsters that Giannoulias serviced while working for his now-defunct family owned and operated Broadway Bank.

Kirk and Giannoulias Spar

Alexi Giannoulias

The Democrat, here, seems to admit that he knew his clients were engaged in illegal activity, but only a little. Giannoulias, sporting a slicked back hairdo on the Sunday morning television talk show, did try to distance himself from the shady connections, saying, “If I knew then what I know now, these are not the kind of people we do our business with.”

But then he wasn’t in the middle of close race for the U.S. Senate, and now he is.

For much of this campaign, Kirk has been hammering Giannoulias’s shady connections, and suggesting that a former high ranking official in a recently failed family bank might not be the best representative in Washington to help Illinois deal with its economic woes.

The debate focused on domestic policy and the shortcomings of both candidates.

Giannoulias, like many Democrats this year, attempted to distance himself from Barack Obama’s signature piece of legislation--Obamacare. Which is interesting, because if he wins he'll hold the very Senate seat once held by Obama. And the president was in Illinois this past week to campaign for his old basketball buddy Giannoulias.

“The health care bill was far from a perfect vehicle,” Giannoulias said, suggesting ways he might fix it. Kirk, in contrast, argued that repealing the health care bill was the best option.

On the economy and job growth, Giannoulias said that Obama has “done everything he can to turn this economy around,” echoing the Democratic talking point that the current administration “inherited” a big mess. But he also argued that economic matters would be worse had it not been for the stimulus package. “We avoided a second great depression,” Giannoulias said. “Do we need to see soup lines down the street to figure out what would have happened?”

Mark Kirk described himself as a “deficit hawk,” railing at the Obama administration for the explosive debt it’s incurred since taking office less than two years ago. When David Gregory, the Meet the Press moderator, asked whether Kirk wants really to run on the debt issue, since Republicans also ran a high debt when they were in power, the Illinois congressman distinguished his own actions from those of his party. 

“The congressman has told some real whoppers during this campaign, but this might be the greatest one of all,” Giannoulias said, in response to Kirk’s claim that he’s a deficit hawk. “He has voted to increase his own pay six times, voted for the bridge to nowhere twice. The list goes on and on.” Giannoulias, in effect, tried to turn the tables--suggesting that he was the deficit hawk, while Kirk was a supporter of big spending.

Kirk fired back, reminding viewers that his opponent wasn’t able to tell the Chicago Tribune’s editorial board recently of a single program he would scale back on if he were elected to the Senate.

Kirk, too, was asked by the moderator to respond to his previous missteps as a candidate, when he got caught embellishing his military record. Kirk looked a little red, lowered his head slightly, and earnestly said: “I made mistakes with regard to my military misstatements. I was careless. I learned a very painful and humbling lesson.”

In short, it was an ugly, yet entertaining, debate. With each participant calling the other a liar throughout the 30-minute live-television match-up. It was surely important, too. After all, as it stands, the Republican leads the Democrat by merely 1.2 points (from an Real Clear Politics average of polls). 

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