When I was a teenager, one of my favorite comic books was the “What if …?” series. Each issue posed a different question, such as “What if Spider-Man joined the Fantastic Four?” These were important, alternate-reality comic-book questions for which every teenage boy wanted to know the answers.

I remembered this last Sunday while reading Peter Gammons’ baseball column on MLB.com. Gammons wrote an entire column playing the “What if …?” game with baseball, theorizing what might have transpired had, for instance, the Boston Red Sox traded for Alex Rodriguez or signed Mark Teixeira.

Gammons’ column got me thinking about playing the “What if …?” game with politics. There are so many different directions to take that game, but the one that popped into my head first was this: What if Broadway Bank had failed before the Feb. 2 primary election?

Broadway Bank, of course, was the financial institution owned by the family of Alexi Giannoulias, the Democratic candidate in Illinois’ U.S. Senate race. It is my opinion that unless his Republican opponent, U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk, makes a major mistake, the failure of Broadway Bank has sunk Giannoulias’ campaign. That may not be fair, but I figure the bank’s failure is one of those campaign points Kirk will make last effectively until the Nov. 2 general election.

The Democrats could have put up a tougher fight for the president’s former Senate seat than this. Had the primary election been held a month later – in March as had been the case before 2008 – former Chicago Inspector David Hoffman probably would have won the Democratic primary. Giannoulias was losing serious ground to Hoffman in the weeks leading up to the Feb. 2 primary election, and barring a major misstep by Hoffman, there was a good chance Giannoulias wouldn’t have won had the vote taken place a few weeks later.

That doesn’t mean Hoffman would necessarily beat Kirk in the November election – especially when voting against incumbent politicians/parties seems to be in vogue – but at least the Democrats wouldn’t be saddled with the Giannoulias problem.

But because of Giannoulias’ troubles, Kirk can now afford to ignore Sarah Palin, too. According to published reports, Kirk reached out to the former Republican vice-presidential candidate for support before the primary election, but Palin snubbed him. Now, as Palin prepares to return to Illinois next month for a GOP fundraiser, Kirk says he won’t attend the event. Kirk says he isn’t going because he needs to be in Washington, D.C., for scheduled House votes, but in reality, he probably would’ve skipped those votes if he believed he really needed to be at that fundraiser to get Palin’s support. He wouldn’t be the first – or the last – politician to do such a thing during election season.

And you don’t need to play the “What if …?” game to know that.