Kirk, Giannoulias on the "Meet the Press" set after the debate. (photos by Lynn Sweet)
WASHINGTON--In their first debate, Illinois Senate rivals Democrat Alexi Giannoulias and Republican Mark Kirk drew stark contrasts Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press" over taxes and job creation--and whose credibility is most flawed.
Giannoulias was defensive when he said--about his family owned Broadway Bank loans to crime figures--he did not know the "extent" of their activity. But Giannoulias also opened up a new front during the debate: accusing Kirk several times of telling "whoppers" about his claims to be a fiscal hawk.
Kirk and Giannoulias are deadlocked in one of the most hotly contested races in the nation, for the seat once held by President Obama.
Kirk was forced to revisit the lowest point of his campaign, which is still impacting the race: a series of embellishments about his career as a Navy Reserve officer. Kirk told host David Gregory that exposures of his embellishments was "a painful and humbling" lesson.
Highlights from the exchange:
*Giannoulias was pressed by Gregory over what he know about loans made to organized crime figures by the Giannoulias family owned Broadway Bank when he was a loan officer. Kirk has made those loans by the bank--which failed in April--a centerpiece of his campaign.
Asked if he knew that there were crime figures the bank was loaning money to, Giannoulias said "We did not know the extent of that activity," and when asked again, said "I did not know the extent of their activity."
After Giannoulias said Kirk does not have much private sector experience, Kirk replied,
"I don't have experience in loaning money to mob figures."
*Kirk--who had been against ending the Bush era tax cuts--said he would be open to a compromise two year extension. Kirk said the Obama stimulus has "largely failed" while Giannoulias said Obama's plan prevented a second Depression
Kirk said, "First of all, we recognize that the stimulus has largely failed. A very small part of it even went to infrastructure development projects. It didn't answer the question, "What happens when all the borrowed money runs out?" Secondly, this Congress has been very, very viciously anti-business. New taxes, new regulation. We need-- Senators and Congressmen that will pass a pro-growth agenda."
Giannoulias took a small hit at Obama's Recovery Act, the legislation with the economic stimulus money in his reply, when he acknowledged some--unspecified flaws in the measure.
"The bigger question is what would have happened?" Giannoulias asked. "It was not flawlessly done, but if you take a look at what would have happened, do we need to see soup lines down the street to figure out what would have happened. We avoided and all economists will tell you that millions of jobs were saved because of the Recovery Act and we avoid a second great depression, that is a reality."
*Giannoulias accused Kirk several times of telling "whoppers" about his fiscal hawk claims. Kirk came back with a jab--that Giannoulias could not think of any spending he would cut during a Chicago Tribune editorial board interview.
Giannoulias said, "This is-- why this race is so important. This is a fundamental public policy difference between myself and Congressman Kirk. He says he's-- a fiscal hawk. Look-- the Congressman has told some real whoppers during this campaign, but that may be the biggest one of all. He voted for every single one of the Bush budgets, which doubled our national debt. He voted to increase his own pay six times. He voted for the bridge to nowhere twice."
Kirk came back, "It's ironic for my opponent to credit my record on fiscal conservatism. In front of the Chicago Tribune they asked him, "Name one spending bill that you would actually vote to cut." He couldn't name one. And as the Chicago Tribune said when they endorsed me, it was painful to watch."
After the debate, Kirk and Giannoulias met with reporters--not together-- on the "Meet the Press" set.
On Broadway Bank, Kirk said the Giannoulias answer "lacks some credibility given how heavily these figures were covered in the Tribune and Sun-Times."
Regarding his comments on not knowing the "extent" of the background of the crime figures, Giannoulias said his remarks were "consistent with everything I've said over the past few years. ...the folks back in Illinois know that I have been very consistent."
Since the matter Sunday morning was not whether Giannoulias was consistent--I asked him to explain what he meant when he used the word "extent." Giannoulias said, "We knew there were rumblings of problems. These weren't loans that I was intimately involved in. These weren't relationships that I brought to the bank, nothing has changed."