For the first time in a long time, Republican statewide candidates for governor and U.S. senator are making a serious effort to get black votes. The forays into a previously hardcore Democratic constituency has put top Democratic candidates on the defensive.
"I think 99 percent of life is showing up, and I've been showing up in the African-American community for years and years," said Gov. Pat Quinn, (D) Illinois.
Standing with black ministers outside a Maywood church Monday morning, Quinn made his latest play for the African-American vote.
But 24 hours earlier, at the South Side House of Hope mega-church pastored by the powerful Reverend Senator James Meeks, Democrat Quinn had to share the stage with his Republican opponent Bill Brady.
"Senator Meeks and I know what it takes to rebuild these communities," said Brady, "and we're gonna work together to do so."
Does State Senator Meeks plan to endorse either candidate? "That's yet to be decided," he said.
The conservative Brady is not conceding the usually heavily Democratic vote to the governor.
Ditto for Congressman Mark Kirk in the U.S. Senate race. The Republican was endorsed over Democrat Alexi Giannoulias Monday morning by the same group of black ministers that endorsed Democrat Quinn in the governor's race.
"I'm going to work very hard for the African-American community. I'm going to make sure that incomes and business are started here," said Rep. Mark Kirk, (R) U.S. Senate nominee.
Kirk and Brady are encouraged by polls that suggest their Republican base is intact and motivated. So they're attacking the heart of the Democratic base.
"I'm reaching out to African-Americans, Latinos and all of Illinois because as the leader of this state, I have to work for all the people of Illinois," said Sen. Bill Brady, (R) nominee for governor.
Democratic Senate nominee Alexi Giannoulias is defending his presumed edge among black voters. He showed up alone Monday afternoon for a what producers hoped would be a debate with Kirk on WVON radio.
"It's offensive. Here's a chance for voters, especially in the African-American community, to hear where we stand on issues, about moving this country forward and the congressman won't even show up," said Giannoulias.
"With each candidate you have scheduling difficulties," Kirk said.
Despite the Republican efforts, Governor Quinn remains confident he will win the overwhelming majority of African-American votes. For his campaign, the key is getting black voters to the polls.
"We're fired up, we're ready to go," Quinn said. "We're not gonna let anybody roll us over. We're gonna get people out to vote."
Tuesday, former president Bill Clinton will appear in Chicago to try and rev up Democratic turnout. On Saturday, President Barack Obama will visit Chicago for the third time since early August for the same purpose.