Giannoulias supports Libertarian candidate in attempt to split conservative vote in Illinois Senate race

Caitlin Riederer Contributor
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In the race for President Obama’s former Senate seat, Democrat Alexi Giannoulias is trying to grasp every advantage he can get against Republican opponent Rep. Mark Kirk — even if it means lending support to the Libertarian Party candidate in the race with the hope that he siphons votes away from Kirk.

In August, Giannoulias issued a statement in support of Libertarian Party candidate Michael Labno, a position he reiterated last week in a press release that stated that Mark Kirk “is now facing a legitimate challenge from the right with Libertarian candidate Mike Labno officially on the Illinois ballot.”

Labno was interviewed Friday by a central Illinois radio station, WJBC, and affably spoke about the tenets of his campaign and Giannoulias’ support. “I am the only candidate in the race that backs [being pro-life and the second amendment],” he said. “Right now, Alexi is pointing out that there are some major issues that are underrepresented.”

Giannoulias’ move to weaken conservative support for Kirk by highlighting the more conservative — at least on some issues — Labno is understandable given how tight the race is. A recent Rasmussen Report poll shows Giannoulias trailing Kirk 37 to 41 percent, with 9 percent going to LeAlan Jones, a Green Party candidate from whom Giannoulias is facing increasing pressure.

Kirk’s campaign denied having any plans to lend support to Jones.

Labno has been embracing the attention Giannoulias’ statements of support has given to his otherwise little publicized candidacy.  “Alexi should be extending an invitation to me to be on the stage with him, to debate,” he said, “The way I see it, if he thinks it’s going to help him, then it can only help him much more if, if I’m sitting on the stage next to him and battling against Mark Kirk.”

There are two locally televised debates scheduled for October. Labno is currently working with the League of Women Voters to secure a spot in the second debate.

Though Labno is considered by some to be the most conservative candidate in the Illinois Senate race, unlike many candidates who have surged to popularity on the national stage, he does not appear to have a tremendous Tea Party following. But he has been reaching out to Tea Party organizations in the state. According to Steve Stevlic, director of the Tea Party Patriots Chicago, “Only one U.S. Senate campaign has failed to reach out to us — the Kirk campaign.”

But being on the right is not necessarily seen as a boost in traditionally left-leaning Illinois. A Republican senator has only held one term since 1970 — Peter Fitzgerald from 1999-2005. Kirk’s liberal stance on issues like Cap and Trade may be more appealing to the general electorate in Illinois.

Labno remains relatively unknown – and, more significantly, unfunded – in the state. His web presence is currently concentrated on the popular social networking site Facebook with slightly over 700 users “liking” his page, about 5 percent of the number of fans Kirk and Giannoulias have each gathered.

NEXT: Could Labno swing the election to Giannoulias?
The question is whether Labno will be able to take enough conservative votes away from Kirk to make a difference in a tight race?

Brian Gaines, an associate professor of political science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a member of the Institute of Government and Public Affairs, expressed doubts that either a Green or Libertarian candidate with little money and little name recognition could steal a significant number of votes to make a difference. “For Giannoulias, the risk of mentioning [Labno] at all is that it smacks of desperation,” he told The Daily Caller in an e-mail. “In his bid to ridicule Kirk, he could end up looking like a guy grasping for straws, wasting his breath on trivial points in the absence of a compelling message.”