The race was deadlocked all summer, and was dominated by attack ads from both sides, after both Kirk and Giannoulias were hamstrung by early scandals. Kirk had to apologize for a number of embellishments he made about his military record. And Giannoulias had to answer for the failure of his family's bank, where he had worked until 2006, and the bank's loans to convicted felons. Both candidates exploited the others controversies, and neither was able to completely overcome their problems.
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In debates, neither candidate pulled punches. On October 19, Giannoulias told Kirk he was trying to "suppress the African-American vote". At the final debate, Kirk accused Giannoulias of "immaturity."
Giannoulias was one of the few Democrats in the country to proudly trumpet his ties to Obama during the campaign. An ad he put out in the closing days that tried to put a positive final point on his candidacy featured both the President and First Lady.
Meanwhile, Kirk tried to position himself as a veteran centrist, who would stand against the Democrats without being extreme. In the end, even in Obama's home state, that appears to have been enough.