Obama's Salute to Nominee for His Senate Seat Tinged With Tension

When President Obama on Wednesday acknowledged the presence of state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias during a visit to Illinois, the tension was palpable between the president and the Democratic nominee for Obama's old Senate seat.

Although it's not unusual for elected state officials and candidates to be mentioned when they attend a presidential event, this shout out was made awkward by the recent failure of Giannoulias' family-owned bank that came as the president was pushing for new rules governing Wall Street.

Giannoulias appeared at a rally in Chicago Wednesday, also calling for financial reform and downplaying any tension with Obama.

"There are lots of rumors and innuendo out there," Giannoulias said. "The White House is supportive of this campaign because they know we'll stand up for Wall Street reform. They know we need to move this country forward. I'm excited to have their support."

The White House expressed support in March for Democrats on the Illinois ticket. But there's been no formal endorsement of Giannoulias.

Meanwhile, Giannoulias also released a campaign ad claiming the bad economy led to his bank's failure and attacking his Republican opponent Mark Kirk.

"We've seen family businesses go under on every block – on every corner," the ad says before showing a photo of Kirk with former President George W. Bush.

"But Washington politician Mark Kirk doesn't get it. First he votes for the Bush policies that got us into this mess, including tax breaks for companies that ship jobs to China," the ad says.

Kirk has tried to make political hay of his opponent's bank failure in a scathing press release. His office said: "Giannoulias is employing a serious spin cycle as he attempts to elicit sympathy for his reckless decisions that brought down his family bank. Mr. Giannoulias resorts to pointing fingers when he finds himself in an inconvenient situation."

The race between Giannoulias and Kirk is close. And now, because of the bank failure, Charlie Cook in his widely read political report has moved the race from a tossup to "Lean Republican.?

Giannoulias is a close friend of Obama, and observers of Illinois politics also say there's little question the president will come to the rescue of Giannoulias when the time is right.

"Giannoulias and Obama are friends and he's friendly with people around him," Paul Green said. "It's a no-brainer. He will support him when it counts."