Democrats were caught flat-footed in Massachusetts, saddled with an uninspiring, lazy candidate in the US Senate election. There was an opportunity to mobilize against Martha Coakley, however, in the December primary. Michael Capuano and two other candidates failed to get traction over the Attorney General and her statewide name recognition.

With an unfavorable electoral environment, primaries are going to be crucial to finding Democratic candidates best equipped to weather the storm, along with those best able to articulate and act on real progressive principles. That brings us to Illinois, and the first 2010 primary races set for next week, February 2. The big race here is the Senate primary to replace what was President Barack Obama’s seat. On the Republican side, Rep. Mark Kirk is likely to win the nomination, while on the Democratic side, there are three major candidates. The latest poll shows State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias leading the race.

State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias entered the final days of the campaign for the Democratic U.S. Senate nomination with a significant advantage over rivals Cheryle Jackson and David Hoffman, but undecided voters could still swing the election, a new Tribune/WGN-TV poll shows […]

Giannoulias was backed by 34 percent of Democrats, while 19 percent supported Jackson, the former Chicago Urban League president, and 16 percent supported Hoffman, the former Chicago inspector general. The poll of 601 likely Democratic voters has an error margin of 4 percentage points.

About a quarter of Democrats were undecided, leaving room for the contest to tighten as candidates make their final appeals for support. Two other contenders, Chicago attorney Jacob Meister and Burr Ridge radiologist Robert Marshall, continued to show only 1 percent support each.

This actually looks like a race between Giannoulias and Hoffman. Jackson is actually stagnant from the last time this race was polled, while Hoffman is being boosted by an outsider image and endorsements in the Chicago Sun-Times, Tribune and Daily Herald. He’s been trying to tie Giannoulias to various Chicago scandals like Rod Blagojevich and Tony Rezko (Giannoulias’ family’s bank lent over $1 million dollars to Rezko, the ad alleges).

But Hoffman’s record is not as clean as he is trying to present with his public image. He has worked for Federalist Society judges, the former Chief Justice William Rehnquist and right-wing Democrats like David Boren (D-OK). Giannoulias has garnered most of the advocacy group endorsements in the race, including from SEIU, Planned Parenthood, the Sierra Club and the AFL-CIO.

I don’t have the greatest sense of the race, but it looks like a mirror of what Harold Ford is trying to pull off in New York, with a conservative Democrat running as an outsider and painting his front-running primary opponent as a tool of the establishment. Will it work? Check back next Tuesday.

David Dayen

David Dayen

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