Illinois Senate Race Tightening, Mud Still Flying

WASHINGTON (FOX) -- The race to fill President Obama's old Senate seat in Illinois is neck and neck in the polls and boiling over with allegations and innuendo.

The race is tied, according to a Rasmussen poll conducted on August 9. The automated phone survey shows Republican Congressman Mark Kirk and Democrat Alexi Giannoulias, the state treasurer, both at 40 percent.

Giannoulias has been plagued by allegations of scandal from the start in connection with his days at Broadway Bank, a now defunct institution that was run by the Giannoulias family.

The latest wrinkle has the Kirk camp attempting to link Giannoulias with Saddam Hussein. Kirk aides say Broadway Bank, the now defunct institution run by Giannoulias' family, made a loan to an Iraqi businessman named Nadhmi Auchi who they claim was once connected to Saddam Hussein.

The Kirk camp says in 2006 Broadway Bank loaned $22.75 million to a company called Riverside District Development, which has ties to both Auchi and Tony Rezko, the Chicago real estate developer convicted of fraud and money laundering in 2008.

Kirk aides also point out that a close Giannoulias associate, Endy Zemenides, was a registered lobbyist for Riverside District Development, while also lobbying for the Giannoulias Enterprises, which is owned by Alexi's family. Zemenides served on the transition team when Giannoulias became Illinois state treasurer and describes himself as a senior advisor to Alexi.

The Kirk camp paints all this as an example of the Chicago-style, pay to play politics that Giannoulias has promised to put an end to.

“Alexi Giannoulias continues to mislead voters about Broadway Bank’s loan to Nadhmi Auchi and Tony Rezko,” Kirk spokesperson Kirsten Kukowski said.  “We are deeply troubled that Alexi Giannoulias’ closest political adviser lobbied on behalf of Nadhmi Auchi’s development project – the very same project Broadway Bank helped finance.”

The Giannoulias campaign has responded by saying that Alexi had left the day to day operations at the bank a few months before the loan was made and describe the accusations as ludicrous and desperate. They also take every chance to bring up the scandal that has dogged the Republican congressman for months. Kirk is a naval commander who continues to serve as a reserve officer. However, he exaggerated his own military record, claiming to have been awarded “Navy Intelligence Officer of the Year” in 1999. It was later revealed the award was given to the entire division that Kirk served with.

The controversy continued when other statements surfaced, such as Kirk claiming to have been shot at while flying in Iraq. Kirk has since admitted he was never fired on as he flew over Iraq or Kosovo .

"When we first heard Kirk lied about Saddam, we presumed Kirk claimed that he single-handedly captured the dictator," said Giannoulias Campaign Communications Director Kathleen Strand. "Congressman Kirk is nothing more than a desperate Washington politician lying about his military record, lying about Alexi and refusing to answer why he puts corporate special interests and shipping jobs overseas ahead of Illinois' working families.

In the final analysis, there is no evidence that Giannoulias has benefitted in any way from the loan and he isn't even being investigated on the matter, however the political reality is that this story will now be a pervasive theme, inexorably tied to Alexi for the remaining weeks of the campaign.

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