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Republicans hope for another Senate victory, this time in Obama's Illinois

Cheryle Jackson, head of the Urban League here and running third in the field, called on Giannoulias to quit the race with the news that Broadway Bank must raise $50 million in capital.

In an interview, Giannoulias played down the impact the bank's problems could have on his campaign, noting that "these are challenging times for community banks, and my family is not immune." But the news lands on an electorate highly suspicious of banks, and in a state yet to recover from former Democratic governor Rod Blagojevich's indictment on charges he tried to sell this very Senate seat to political contributors after Obama was elected president. He finally appointed Roland Burris, who will not run for the seat.

Giannoulias said he hasn't worked at the bank in four years. Still, both Kirk and Democratic rivals have pointed out that large loans were made to people with questionable reputations on his watch, including convicted felon Tony Rezko.

The son of Greek immigrants and college basketball star, Giannoulias is telegenic and able to raise money, and he has assiduously worked the party establishment. But he was not the White House's first choice: Obama aides openly courted state Attorney General Lisa Madigan to run, even bringing her to Washington to meet with Obama.

Kirk entered the race after it was clear Madigan would not.

Republicans are relishing that the trial of the ever-colorful Blagojevich is expected to start in June and could create an unwelcome circus for Democrats.

Kirk, a social moderate who supports abortion rights and is fiscally conservative, has shown resilience in tough races. Democrats pumped millions of dollars into his district, trying to defeat him in the last two election cycles. Even with Obama on the ballot in 2008 and pulling 61 percent in Kirk's districts, Kirk still won convincingly.

"What's past is prologue for me," Kirk said. ". . . I'm braced for what I lived through last year."

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