Illinois Senate Campaigns Sling Mud Online

The deadlocked Senate race in Illinois has been less than friendly, and last week each side built up its attack arsenals online. The campaign for Republican Mark Kirk pounded away at one of his opponent’s biggest bêtes noires, while in an e-mail from Democrat Alexi Giannoulias’s campaign targeted Kirk’s perceived flip-flop on a jobs bill.

Supporters of Giannoulias received an e-mail August 12 with a cryptic numeric subject: “24.” Twenty-four is, according to the e-mail, “how many hours it took for Mark Kirk to flip-flop on his support of that critical jobs bill,” said the message.

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The $26 billion bill, signed into law two days before, provides federal dollars to school districts, and is intended to protect teachers, police, and other public workers from losing jobs due to local budget constraints. The day before voting against the legislation, Kirk said he was “inclined” to vote for it.

“$0,” begins the Giannoulias e-mail. “That’s how much the jobs bill signed into law this week adds to our deficit. The bill pays for itself in part by cracking down on companies that ship jobs overseas.” The e-mail also suggested that supporters take “5” minutes of their time to write a letter to the editor “about Mark Kirk’s betrayal of the middle class.”

Meanwhile, on the day of the vote, as Kirk was criticized by the left for his alleged flip-flop, his campaign went on the offensive, releasing a Web video hammering away at Giannoulias and his alleged ties to a convicted Chicago real estate developer.

“Alexi Giannoulias Made Tens of Millions in Loans to Mobsters and Convicted Felons,” proclaims text in the video. The video reinforces claims the Kirk campaign and others have made about Giannoulias for some time: mainly that a bank owned by his family gave loans to Tony Rezko, who later was convicted. “Now We Learn There Are More Suspicious Broadway Bank Loans Alexi Didn’t Mention,” the video text continues.


Kirk’s campaign also harps on his opponent’s alleged connections to the criminal underworld in one of many attack microsites floating around this election season. RealTruthAboutAlexi.com points out loans the bank made to “colorful characters,” displaying their Polaroid-style mugshots on a corkboard. “Michael ‘Jaws’ Giorango is a thrice-convicted mob bookie and prostitution promoter,” says the site, claiming the bank loaned him millions.

“The truth about…” is a phrase that’s become cliché in the world of smear campaigns. Indeed, by purchasing TheTruthAboutAlexi.com domain itself, the Giannoulias campaign may have intended to preempt Kirk’s staff. The site houses information intended to dispute “myths” perpetrated by Kirk and other Giannoulias opponents.

The Giannoulias campaign has gone after Kirk online on several fronts, from his stances on Iraq to Health Insurance Reform. WhoIsMarkKirk.com, a site that was taken down by the Giannoulias campaign in July, mimicked the Jeopardy game show board. Behind every dollar amount, a statement was intended to answer the “Who is Mark Kirk?” question. Read one answer, “Using scaremongering tricks that would make Sarah Palin proud, this Washington Republican warned that health care reform legislation would ‘cut Medicare for seniors.’ “

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The site was “meant to be a short term persuasion project that has actually been wildly successful,” Kathleen Strand, communications director for the Giannoulias campaign, told ClickZ recently. “It was helping us to drive a mainstream media message about Congressman Kirk’s lies,” she added.

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