WASHINGTON -- Alexi Giannoulias' Democratic Illinois Senate campaign is talking up a marginal Senate candidate -- Libertarian Mike Labno -- to try to drain conservative votes from his Republican rival, Mark Kirk.
The Giannoulias campaign tactic to try to erode Kirk's base Republican vote comes as a major national convention of conservatives -- "Right Nation 2010" -- takes place Saturday at the Sears Centre Arena in Hoffman Estates, with headliners including Glenn Beck, Andrew Breitbart and Dick Armey.
Since Labno on Aug. 27 won a spot on the Nov. 2 ballot, the Giannoulias campaign has been trying to spotlight Labno, a political unknown whose shoestring campaign is being run, he told me in an interview, from his home in west suburban Oak Brook.
"I want to thank Alexi," Labno told me. He said he couldn't care less if Giannoulias, the state treasurer, was using him to take votes from Kirk, a congressman. "I'm sure that is part of it. ... I appreciate him getting my name out and helping my campaign," Labno said.
I asked Pat Brady, the chairman of the Illinois Republican Party, about Giannoulias' strategy in an interview Thursday. ''Desperate candidates say desperate things," Brady said. ''I think this is to distract the voters from Alexi's issues that he has. I think Mark Kirk fits the state perfectly; a fiscal conservative, independent, and I think the base is very solidly behind him."
Giannoulias has issued two statements highlighting Labno, the latest Wednesday, in the wake of the Tea Party victory in Delaware's GOP Senate primary. The Republican establishment candidate, Rep. Mike Castle -- a moderate -- was defeated by Christine O'Donnell, whose victory came with the help of Sarah Palin and the Tea Party movement.
Noting the GOP primary loss of Castle and two other senators -- Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Bob Bennett of Utah -- to more conservative challengers who had Tea Party backing, the Giannoulias campaign said in a statement from campaign manager Michael Rendina, "the anti-incumbent, conservative wave will claim Congressman Mark Kirk as its next victim in November, with Mike Labno as the only pro-life, pro-gun candidate running for Senate in Illinois."
Said Labno, "the pro-life and pro-gun stuff goes over very well with a lot of people, knowing that they actually have a choice in this race."
Polls show the Kirk-Giannoulias contest in a statistical deadlock, giving more importance to the potential spoiler role of third-party candidates.
Giannoulias actually has more to worry about from Green Party nominee LeAlan Jones, who leaves him exposed on his left flank. A Sept. 9 Rasmussen Reports poll put Kirk at 41 percent to Giannoulias with 37 percent and Jones, included for the first time, at 9 percent. About 14 percent either are undecided or prefer another candidate. A recent Democratic poll put Labno at 3 percent.
The Illinois Republican Party -- with unusual discipline -- rallied around Kirk early on. Kirk easily beat conservative and Tea Party-backed candidates in the Feb. 2 Illinois GOP primary.
Rendina, looking to stir up trouble for Kirk, said, "As the national conservative movement descends on Chicago this weekend for Right Nation -- where Congressman Kirk is blowing off his base and Mike Labno is sure to appear -- Illinois conservatives will have a chance to voice their disapproval of establishment, D.C. insiders who waver on their fundamental values.''
Actually, Labno is not scheduled to appear at Right Nation 2010. He told me he was not invited to speak, not surprising since the sponsors include GOP organizations. The Giannoulias camp is disingenuous in saying Kirk is "blowing off" his base.
Kirk in the primary played to the right: At one point, he sought Palin's backing. His November electoral strategy is to make a play for suburban independent and swing Democratic voters who may not find Right Nation their cup of tea.