Alexi Giannoulias launches first TV spots in Democratic secretary of state bid

Chicago Tribune
Chicago Tribune
Secretary of state candidate Alexi Giannoulias listens during the Cook County Democratic Committee slating meeting on Dec. 14, 2021, at IBEW Local 134. Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune/TNS

Alexi Giannoulias’ Democratic campaign for Illinois secretary of state will launch two television spots Wednesday, both linking him to former President Barack Obama, with one of them criticizing former President Donald Trump.

Both ads show Giannoulias playing basketball with children in a gymnasium, a nod to his days playing overseas in Greece. In one, he explains how he was inspired to become a politician by Obama, whom Giannoulias refers to as his “basketball buddy.”

In the other ad, he makes a reference to Trump and his efforts “to overturn the last election” while saying he wants to use the secretary of state’s office to make it easier to register to vote. The ad noted the importance of protecting voting rights, expanding voter registration and encouraging vote by mail.

“When I played pro ball, we practiced to make the game easier. When I’m secretary of state, I’ll do the same. We’ll never let anyone stop you from casting your vote,” he says in that ad.

In fact, while other states’ secretary of state’s offices play an integral role in elections, in Illinois the office plays only a small role in helping the public register to vote.

Giannoulias’ opponents in the June 28 Democratic primary are Chicago City Clerk Anna Valencia and Chicago Ald. David Moore, 17th. All are seeking to succeed Democrat Jesse White, who is retiring after holding the post since 1999.

On the Republican side, state Rep. Dan Brady of Bloomington is running against John Milhiser, a former federal prosecutor from Springfield.

Giannoulias and Valencia have become heated rivals in the race. The Giannoulias campaign has questioned Valencia’s husband’s lobbying work and whether it has interfered with her role as city clerk. Valencia’s campaign has gone after Giannoulias for failing to disclose names of his clients from his investment firm even as he stresses transparency in government.

On Tuesday, Valencia’s campaign alluded to some of those criticisms, as well as Giannoulias’ past support for former House Republican Leader Tom Cross for state treasurer after Giannoulias held the office from 2007 to 2011.

“Now, Alexi on the ballot risks losing Jesse White’s Secretary of State office, too. That’s why Secretary White endorsed Anna to succeed him,” Valencia’s campaign manager, Cheryl Bruce, said in a statement.

Giannoulias becomes the only candidate for statewide office other than governor to hit the airwaves, and Moore’s campaign said it’s not surprised Giannoulias is making an early TV launch.

“That’s why he’s been raising money at a fever pitch to reintroduce himself to the people of Illinois because he’s been missing from the scene in the last 10 years,” said Delmarie Cobb, a spokesperson for Moore.

Cobb said that while Moore doesn’t have the money to compete against Giannoulias, “this is not a campaign on the air. This is a campaign on the ground,” referring to Moore’s door-to-door efforts to get out the vote.

Giannoulias’ campaign last year ended with about $4 million on hand. That was more than the Valencia and Moore campaigns combined.

Billionaire Gov. J.B. Pritzker in February announced his endorsement of Valencia, which could be good for her financially.

Aside from Pritzker and White, Valencia also secured endorsements from two of the other highest-ranking Illinois Democrats, U.S. Sens. Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin, whose reelection campaign Valencia oversaw in the mid-2010s.

Giannoulias, meanwhile, is backed by several powerful Democrats, including Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, retiring U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, and Chicago Ald. Pat Dowell, 3rd — who dropped a secretary of state bid to run for Rush’s congressional seat.

The Giannoulias campaign has also secured backing from some of the state’s most influential organized labor groups, including the powerful Service Employees International Union, and from various Democratic Party groups.

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