Citing "prior commitments," Democrat candidate for the US Senate from Illinois, Alexi Giannoulias, abruptly backed out of a debate with his Republican opponent about Israel and the Middle East. Curious though, "Giannoulias, his Republican opponent, Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), and other local politicians had agreed to participate in the forum months ago" and the Giannoulias' campaign had confirmed the State Treasurer's availability, according to the Jewish Telegraph Agency (JTA).
The debate was arranged by the non-partisan Protect Our Heritage public action committee and 16 other Jewish organizations, including several Chicago area synagogues. Besides debating, the candidates would also answer questions from voters about Israel and related matters. Evidently, that was too scary for Giannoulias, whose opponent is known as one of the most knowledgeable House members on foreign policy, as well as arguably Israel's best friend in Congress.
"As Iran continues its pursuit of nuclear weapons and terrorists threaten Israel from Gaza and Lebanon, our next U.S. Senator should not be afraid to stand up for our strongest democratic ally in the Middle East," Kirk said in a statement. Giannoulias did not respond to multiple phone calls from JTA.
No sooner had the Giannoulias campaign turned tail on Illinois' pro-Israel constituency than the Democrat running for Kirk's old seat did the same. Dan Seals, who has run twice unsuccessfully for Congress from Illinois Tenth District, announced that he too would skip the forum and not debate his opponent, Bob Dold, or submit himself to voters' questions. Seals said that Giannoulias' drop out gave the prospect of a forum "inherently weighted in favor of the Republican candidates." Yet, the fact that the constituency and area tilts towards Democrats never stopped Kirk or Dold from meeting the voters.
While neither Democrat will tell us why they really dropped out, people familiar with the candidates have said all along that Kirk and Dold are far more knowledgeable and incisive, certainly about Israel and foreign policy, than their Democrat opponents. Democratic campaign strategy hopes that Illinois has become such a blue state that Democrats start with an automatic advantage and voters will choose Democrat candidates no matter how unqualified, as long as they do not throw their lack of ability in their faces -- which seems to be what Giannoulias and Seals just did.