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Groundhog Day is also the official kickoff day for the 2010 midterm election cycle, with the first primary elections in the nation scheduled in the state of Illinois.

Competitive primaries are the order of the day at the top of the ticket, with some interesting downballot races to keep an eye on, as well.

GUBERNATORIAL PRIMARIES:

On the Democratic side, all eyes are on the contested, and quite ugly, primary between incumbent Governor Pat Quinn and state Comptroller Dan Hynes. Once comfortably ahead, Quinn had seen his lead dwindle in the face of a fiercely aggressive campaign by Hynes, who actually took a narrow lead in last-minute polls by both Rasmussen and PPP. Hynes' track record in primaries is only so-so: he was easily defeated by Barack Obama when both men ran for the U.S. Senate in 2004. This time around, he seems to be in a better position. This cycle, if nothing else has been made clear, is not a swell time to be an incumbent state executive.

The Republican primary, on the other hand, is a genuine pick 'em. Recent polling has been a wash--three different candidates have been in the lead, and five different GOP aspirants have been within single digits of the lead. The trio up front appears to be former state party chairman Andy McKenna, state senator Kirk Dillard, and former state Attorney General Jim Ryan. Nothing is for certain, though, as state senator Bill Brady and businessman Adam Andrezejewski linger just behind.

U.S. SENATE PRIMARIES:

The race here appears to be on the Democratic side, though thirty-something state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias seems to be the bettor's favorite heading into Primary Day. Giannoulias was the lead fundraiser for the race on the Dem side, with just over three million dollars raised, and earned the endorsement of Jacob Meister, who was well behind in the field but dropped out over the weekend and endorsed Giannoulias. David Hoffman, the former Chicago Inspector General, has actually put a pretty decent campaign together, and was clearly in the second spot in last week's Rasmussen poll of this race. The candidacy of Chicago Urban League President Cheryle Robinson Jackson has plateaued a bit, hurt in part by money woes (she had raised just over $ 400K by the last filing deadline, which was less than both Giannoulias and Hoffman still had on-hand).

On the Republican side, what many thought would be a potentially intriguing primary has really fizzled out. Mark Kirk, after all, had cast enough apostate votes in the House that there was some real consternation about him being the Republican standard-bearer for the Senate. In fact, you might recall that Kirk briefly flirted with stepping away from a Senate bid, because Illinois Republicans were hedging on their support. In the end, he got into the race, and real estate developer Patrick Hughes got in as the "tea party" alternative. Hughes, however, failed to capitalize on the Doug Hoffman wave. Kirk outraised him 9-to-1, and the polls have never been all that close. As Tom Jensen of Public Policy Polling noted on his blog:

"The fact that Mark Kirk is going to steamroll Patrick Hughes shows that the Tea Party movement is only as effective as the money that's behind it. If the Club for Growth or some other big time funding mechanism doesn't get involved these candidates have no chance against more mainstream Republicans who can raise the money. At the end of the day this movement may be grassroots but it's only successful when it's well funded grassroots.

U.S. HOUSE PRIMARIES:

There are a few downballot primaries worth keeping an eye on. Probably the marquee race for the House is going to be in the northern Chicago suburbs of IL-10, where Mark Kirk has had to fight hard as an incumbent, and which is one of the few Democratic pickup opportunities this cycle. On the Democratic side, the man who held Kirk to single-digit wins in both 2006 and 2008, marketing executive Dan Seals, is back. This time around, he has a real primary fight on his hands in the person of state Representative Julie Hamos. Hamos has actually outraised Seals during this cycle (although, it must be said that Seals beat the well-funded Jay Footlik easily when the two went head-to-head in the 2008 Dem primary). Attorney Elliot Richardson rounds out the Democratic field, and has raised enough money to be a factor. Interestingly, there has been near-total silence on polling out of this primary, with the only poll out in the open being an Anzalone-Liszt (D) poll from August giving Seals a wide edge. On the Republican side, meanwhile, it looks to be a three-candidate race, with state legislator Elizabeth Coulson getting chased hard by businessman Bob Dold (who has claimed endorsements from Dick Lugar and Dan Quayle) and stock analyst Dick Green.

Down the road in IL-11, freshman Democrat Debbie Halvorson will learn who her GOP opponent is tonight. It is likely to be establishment choice Adam Kinzinger, who was anointed early on and faces two poorly-funded (fifteen grand between the two of 'em) teabagger-esque rivals tonight. Kinzinger has burned through quite a bit of his war chest in this nuisance primary, and as a result, Halvorson has nearly a 5-to-1 CoH edge as they head into the general election cycle.

In other races tonight, only state Senator Randy Hultgren stands in the way of the Hastert dynasty in IL-14, as Ethan Hastert tries to reclaim his dad's seat in Congress from Democratic Rep. Bill Foster. Meanwhile, a sextet of relatively lightly-funded Republicans (Maria Rodriguez leads the field with just $ 106K raised total) are vying for the right to take on Democrat Melissa Bean in IL-08. Lastly, it will be interesting to see if his public flirtation with the Cook County Presidency extracts any costs from longtime IL-07 Congressman Danny Davis. Four Democrats are challenging him for re-election.

Originally posted to Daily Kos on Tue Feb 02, 2010 at 02:00 PM PST.

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