WASHINGTON – Following a gaffe at a Senate debate, Republican Sen. Mark Kirk on Sunday was confronted with the loss of endorsements from organizations devoted to gay rights and curbing gun violence, handing another advantage to his Democratic challenger, Rep. Tammy Duckworth.

The two groups revoking backing — The Human Rights Campaign and the Americans for Responsible Solutions political action committee, founded by former Rep. Gabby Giffords, D-Ariz., after she was seriously wounded in a shooting spree — represent key groups in the Kirk coalition.

In withdrawing the endorsements, both groups specifically called Kirk’s debate jab at Duckworth “racist.”

As a practical matter, the impact of the organizations yanking the endorsements on Saturday is not clear. Neither group was spending significant money to boost Kirk.

APOLOGY: Kirk tells Duckworth he’s sorry about remark
DEBATE: Kirk hits Duckworth on honesty, military service

Among Republicans, Kirk has one of the strongest records on issues important to the LGBTQ community and to activists pushing Congress to reduce gun violence. Kirk’s backing for gay marriage and his aisle-crossing efforts to address violence are crucial to his identity as a moderate.

Duckworth is also strong on these issues, but the organizations have so few Republicans in their corner that they endorsed Kirk because of his long supportive track record.
That changed as a result of the Thursday debate between Kirk and Duckworth at the University of Illinois, Springfield.

After Duckworth noted, “my family has served this nation in uniform going back to the Revolution,” at the debate, Kirk replied: “I’ve forgotten that your parents came all the way from Thailand to serve George Washington.”

Duckworth’s mother was born in Thailand; her father was born in Maryland.

In an apology posted on Twitter, Kirk wrote, “Sincere apologies to an American hero, Tammy Duckworth, and gratitude for her family’s service.” A Kirk ally noted that Kirk’s sister, Maya, was adopted from Korea as a baby.

In withdrawing the endorsement ARS PAC executive director Peter Ambler issued a statement saying Kirk’s “racist attack” on Duckworth “is unacceptable and represents a low point, even in this election season. For that reason, Americans for Responsible Solutions PAC is revoking its endorsement of Senator Kirk. While we believe the path to responsible change and communities safer from gun violence must include Republican champions, we cannot continue to support Senator Kirk.”

HRC president Chad Griffin said in a statement: “After careful consideration, HRC’s Public Policy Committee of the Board of Directors has taken the unprecedented step — a first in our 36-year history — of revoking an endorsement. … We endorsed the sitting Senator, Mark Kirk, because he has been a strong supporter of our cause time and again, scoring a 100 percent on HRC’s most recent Congressional Scorecard. But events this week have gone beyond the pale for our standards of leadership.”

Kirk had a very light weekend campaign schedule, given that Sunday marked nine days until the election and he came out of the debate damaged.

Kirk and Duckworth were scheduled to appear separately at a forum hosted by the Chicago Sinai Congregation on late Sunday afternoon – an event which, if the Cubs were not playing in the World Series, might have gotten more attention, given that the Iran nuclear deal is an issue in the Senate race.

Duckworth family tree

How does Duckworth’s family military history on her father’s side stretch back to the founding of the nation? According to her campaign: Duckworth’s father, Franklin Duckworth, served in the Marines and Army Reserves.

“Franklin’s mother was Winnifred (Smith) Duckworth, and her mother was Daisy Dean Smith. Daisy’s father was John Amick, who was the son of Tacy Anderson Amick. Tacy Anderson Amick’s mother was Sarah Anderson, daughter of Elijah Anderson, who was born in Virginia and served as a private under Captain John Bell during the Revolutionary War.”