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Wall Street Bets Big on Race for Obama's Senate Seat

The heated contest for President Obama’s former Senate seat could turn on a little-noticed factor: the generous backing of Wall Street donors.

Congressman Mark Kirk, a five-term Republican, has received more than a million dollars in contributions from a variety of hedge funds, private equity firms, and banks—essentially making him Wall Street’s favorite GOP candidate on the Hill, according to data crunched by the Center for Responsive Politics.

His donors include individuals from the hedge fund Elliott Management, the private equity firm Madison Dearborn, and J.P. Morgan Chase. Only Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, Democrats from the industry’s home state of New York, have received more.

Democratic challenger Alexi Giannoulias, who refused money from corporate PACs and lobbyists, is supported primarily by big law firms.

Your Money Your Vote - A CNBC Special Report
Your Money Your Vote - A CNBC Special Report

Kirk has won Wall Street hearts by embracing a pro-growth, anti-tax agenda, saying he fears the effects of what would amount to a $900 billion tax increase if the Bush-era tax cuts are permitted to expire.

But he may have an even more compelling pitch: a recent court ruling mandating that as soon as this election’s results are certified, the victor will take immediately office. That means if Kirk wins the bid for Senate, he could be positioned to vote in favor of extending those tax cuts during the lame-duck session of Congress late this year, before other newly-elected members take office.

Stumping in the Chicago suburb of Wheeling, Ill. at an early get-out-the-vote rally, Kirk spoke to me about this potential advantage: “I could become the 42nd key fiscally conservative vote in the lame duck Senate,” he said.

Giannoulias, now the Illinois state treasurer, favors letting the current tax cuts expire for the wealthiest Americans, but would extend them for those making less than $250,000. He has also embraced certain breaks for small businesses.

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