John Gregory -- Illinois Radio Network

Some powerful Democrats in Illinois are backing different candidates in the party’s U.S. Senate primary.

All the candidates have big-time backers: State Sen. Napoleon Harris (D-Harvey), has the endorsement of Illinois Senate President John Cullerton. Former Chicago Urban League president Andrea Zopp has said former U.S. Commerce Secretary and short-lived governor candidate Bill Daley helped convinced her to run.

U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Hoffman Estates), the first Democratic candidate to announce, has the backing of U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin. He says he respects everyone in the race, and the differences in opinion among top Democrats as to who the nominee should be to take on U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk.

“We respect one another’s choices, and we believe at the end of the day that the Democratic primary voters have the last word,” Durbin said. “I’m going to do everything I can to help Congresswoman Duckworth.”

In recent U.S. Senate elections without a Democratic incumbent, contested primaries have been the norm, such as the 2004 race won by Barack Obama which featured seven candidates. Durbin doesn’t think that will hurt the eventual nominee in the general election, as long as Democrats back whatever candidate wins in March.

“It depends on how the primary’s waged,” Durbin said. “We’ve had spirited primaries. I used to have them regularly, and still came together afterwards. The way the candidates wage the primaries and efforts to bind the party together afterward are critically important.”

Cullerton and Durbin were on the same side in the primary in 2010, when both endorsed Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias.

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