Alexi Giannoulias, Cheryle Jackson and David Hoffman, widely believed to be the three front-runners in the race for the Democratic nomination for Senate in Illinois, were on "Chicago Tonight" for a moderated discussion Wednesday.
While host Carol Marin's forceful questioning gave each of the candidates trouble at times, Jackson seemed the least composed. Her struggles for answers about her role as Rod Blagojevich's communications director, and in her husband's hiring at the Department of Health, looked uncomfortable next to the more deft spin artistry of Hoffman and Giannoulias.
Nowhere was this clearer than on the point of marriage rights. While her opponents were both strongly in favor of marriage equality for everyone, Jackson's response was both less clear and markedly less emphatic..
"I'm absolutely for fighting for the civil rights of the GLBT community--the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered community," she told Marin. "I would fight to repeal Don't Ask Don't Tell. I would fight to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act. I would fight to enforce civil unions, as President Obama, Senator Durbin and Governor Quinn, and making certain that gay couples receive every single right that's afforded to a married couple, including those rights that govern children and--"
"So yes to gay marriage as well," Marin asked.
"I'm saying yes to civil unions."
Marriage rights was one of the few areas on which Giannoulias and Hoffman agreed, with Hoffman saying "Alexi is absolutely right" that all Americans should have equal marriage rights regardless of sexual orientation. Hoffman did, however, try some underdog one-upsmanship by suggesting that whoever was elected would also want to address inequalities in the tax code.
Much of the discussion simmers with anxiety, though, as the election of Scott Brown over Martha Coakley in Massachusetts has led to speculation about Republicans' prospects in this race. While there isn't much recent polling on the subject, some numbers suggest that a race between GOP front-runner Mark Kirk and Democratic front-runner Giannoulias would be close.
Throughout the night, each candidate claimed to be best-suited to stave off Kirk. Hoffman claimed outsider status, Jackson made a populist case, and Giannoulias insisted that he was the most qualified.
Watch the full discussion below. For Jackson's remarks on Blagojevich and her husband, skip to 9:10. For the discussion about marriage rights, skip to 39:36.