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Giannoulias getting White House support: Duncan, Messina to Chicago for fund-raisers

WASHINGTON–Democratic Illinois Senate nominee Alexi Giannoulias will be getting help from the Obama White House. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and White House Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina are planning visits to Illinois to campaign for Giannoulias in June.

My Chicago Sun-Times colleague Abdon Pallasch has a report below, at the click.

Here’s what I learned: Messina and Duncan are coming in for fund-raisers, a few days apart. Duncan may also do a press event with Giannoulias.

On Tuesday afternoon, I talked with White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs about the Illinois Senate race. The “White House is going to help the Democratic nominee in Illinois and we look forward to supporting the nominee and retaining the Senate seat.”

I asked if more White House help was coming and Gibbs, referring to Duncan and Messina told me, “This is high level help and this is a very important race. I don’t think this is the last of it.”

Obama on Tuesday headed to California to headline fund-raisers for Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

How the news of Messina and Duncan coming to Illinois helps Giannoulias: More than the actual dollars Messina or Duncan generate at their events, the White House actually doing something tangible for Giannoulias helps donors who have been reluctant to write checks. GOP rival Rep. Mark Steven Kirk (R-Ill.) is millions of dollars ahead in fund-raising. The White House weighed in after the Giannoulias family Broadway Bank failed and Giannoulias was still standing–and had a poll showing he was neck and neck with Kirk.

BY ABDON M. PALLASCH Political Reporter

Following the hug and the shout-out President Obama gave Democratic Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias at a downstate Quincy event a few weeks ago, the White House is poised to shower a little more love on the beleaguered former banker.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan — a frequent hoops buddy of Giannoulias and the president — and White House Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina are planning back-to-back visits to Illinois to campaign for Giannoulias in June.

As late as the morning of the Quincy event, reporters were pestering Giannoulias with questions about whether President Obama was giving his former close friend the cold shoulder following some rough hits in the press for Giannoulias when his family’s Broadway Bank was taken over by federal regulators and sold to MB Financial.

But Obama made clear later that day that he still considered Giannoulias to be a “soon-to-be-senator.” Obama himself is not expected to start campaigning for Democratic challengers until the fall, said Giannoulias spokeswoman Kathleen Strand.

In the coming months, Obama is expected to concentrate on shoring up support for Democratic incumbent senators, she said.

Giannoulias’ Republican opponent, Rep. Mark Kirk, is expected to attract a steady stream of big-name Republican endorsements and donations. Even Democratic Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. is considering staying neutral in the race to help his friend Kirk.