No matter who wins today's Democratic and Republican Illinois primaries for senator and governor, the general election contests will be played out on a national stage, for reasons of the calendar as much as the anticipated pitched partisan battles in President Obama's adopted home state.
Illinois has the first 2010 primary in the nation and will, for months, be the only state with twin rip-roaring November battles with governor and senator nominees. Illinois moved its traditional March primary to February to help Obama in the 2008 "Super Tuesday" February primaries and never switched back.
As the first primary of 2010 and President Obama's home state, Illinois will garner national interest when voters head to the polls today.
The contests in Illinois will play out against a backdrop of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich's corruption trial this summer and the Obama White House push to keep Democratic defeats to a minimum in a non-presidential year. This comes as Democrats are licking their wounds in the wake of GOP New Jersey and Virginia governor pickups and the stunning win of Sen.-elect Scott Brown in Massachusetts for the seat held by the late Sen. Ted Kennedy.
With ongoing Illinois ethics scandals and the state nearly insolvent, "the Republicans have the advantage in issues that in 2006 and 2008 hurt Republicans in Illinois," said GOP pollster Linda DiVall, an Illinois native. With Obama, "In 2008, the Democrats had the energy or intensity advantage. Right now, we enjoy that advantage," said DiVall, the pollster for GOP governor contender Kirk Dillard.
"I think the Republicans are putting a big bull's-eye" on Illinois "to distract Democrats as much as possible," said Democratic strategist Gina Glantz. But it would be "dumb to put their resources into embarrassing the president rather than investing in winning as many seats as possible."
There were no primaries in January, and with the exception of the Texas primary on March 2 -- where the marquee contest is a GOP governor primary between Gov. Rick Perry and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and no Senate seat in play -- the next set of primary elections do not take place until May.
The big states that will have dual Senate and governor races have primaries months away: Ohio and Pennsylvania in May, California in June; Arizona and Florida in August and New York and Wisconsin in September.