If the Republican victory in the election to fill the late Sen. Edward Kennedy's Massachusetts Senate seat was a shock for President Barack Obama, the political turmoil in Illinois, his home state, is a problem that never seems to go away.
His former Senate seat, already stained by an ethics scandal, is a major takeover target for Republicans. So is the governor's office.
Going into Tuesday's Illinois primary, the first of the 2010 campaign season, Democrats are in disarray, with no political heavyweights in their lineup for the Senate seat that Obama gave up for the White House.
Losing it would be a bigger personal embarrassment for the president than Republican Scott Brown's upset victory in Massachusetts, which ended the Democrats' supermajority in the Senate and imperiled Obama's sweeping health care reform.
The front-runner for the Democratic Senate nomination in Illinois, state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, describes Obama as his mentor. He is only 33 and hasn't served a full term in office, and his only previous experience was working for a family bank now in financial trouble.
Mark Kirk, a five-term member of Congress who supports abortion rights and gun control, is by far the leading candidate for the Republican Senate nomination, but he has infuriated some conservative activists.
Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn is in danger of losing in the primary because of his association with disgraced former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who was expelled from office.
Blagojevich has been the central figure in Illinois. The former governor was arrested and tossed out of office a year ago over a long list of corruption charges, including the allegation that he tried to sell Obama's Senate seat to the highest bidder.
Quinn twice ran as lieutenant governor on the same ticket as Blagojevich. He has also taken heat for proposing a tax increase to clean up the state's financial mess and for working with Obama to move terror suspects from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to an Illinois prison. His effort to cut costs by letting some nonviolent inmates out of prison turned out to include releasing violent offenders _ some of whom have been accused of serious new crimes.
Before he left office, Blagojevich appointed Roland Burris to fill Obama's Senate seat, which led to a Senate ethics investigation and left Burris so politically crippled that he decided not to run for a full term.
Republicans use Blagojevich, who left behind the biggest budget deficit in Illinois history, as a symbol of Democratic mismanagement. Whether talking about candidates for governor or Senate, they argue that any Democrat who supported Blagojevich or his policies _ or simply criticized him too mildly _ should not hold office.
Republicans have reason to be optimistic. Officials from both parties say Illinois voters are frustrated by rising unemployment and are angry about gridlock in Washington and corruption in state government. Since Democrats control all major offices in Illinois, that anger seems likely to be directed at them.
"I think you're going to see a lot of people voting against incumbents," said Bob Schillerstrom, who recently dropped out of the Republican primary for governor.
The White House claims not to be worried. Presidential adviser David Axelrod noted recently that voters won't decide until November, which he called "an eternity" in politics.