The White House and Illinois Democrats said Tuesday that their bid to hold on to President Barack Obama's old Senate seat won't be easy and their difficulties aren't just because of the scandal that engulfed ousted Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
Next year is the first major election for Democrats since Blagojevich was arrested last year on federal corruption charges and removed from office. He has pleaded not guilty to charges that he tried to sell or trade Obama's Senate seat.
"No one ever said it was going to be easy. There's a dark cloud over everyone's head," said Alexi Giannoulias, Illinois' treasurer who's running for Obama's senate seat.
The Obama administration has even expressed some uneasiness about Democrats' ability to keep the seat away from Republicans in the wake of Blagojevich.
"Obviously there is an added burden, but not an insurmountable one," top Obama adviser David Axelrod told The Associated Press.
But Blagojevich isn't the Democrats' only hurdle, said Chicago City Clerk Miguel del Valle. Del Valle on Tuesday endorsed former city of Chicago inspector general David Hoffman, one of Giannoulias' Feb. 2 primary opponents.
"It's a rough political climate," del Valle said. "President Barack Obama is not having an easy time these days even though he's doing exactly what people like me want him to do."
Republicans are pushing hard to claim Obama's old Senate seat. The seat is currently held by Sen. Roland Burris, who was appointed to the post by Blagojevich after the then-governor was arrested last year.
The crowded GOP primary includes U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk of Chicago's northern suburbs, the best-known of the candidates in the field.
Democrats running for the seat also include Chicago Urban League leader Cheryle Jackson, a former top aide to Blagojevich in his first term, and attorney Jacob Meister.
The White House had hoped Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan could be persuaded to get in the race. Madigan decided to run for a third term as attorney general rather than seek higher office in the U.S. Senate or as Illinois governor.
"Obviously I thought Lisa would give us the best shot because she's the most popular politician in the state," Axelrod said.
Giannoulias said voters are looking for a candidate with the best ideas to move the country forward, while Hoffman said voters want fresh faces in politics.
"People are really fed up. They've had enough," Hoffman said.
Associated Press Writer Carla K. Johnson contributed to this report.