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Sweet: Mark Kirk challenger Marter faces steep uphill run

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WASHINGTON — Last September, James Marter, an Oswego software consultant, saw that no prominent conservative was challenging U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk in the March Republican primary, so he jumped in.

“I just looked at it and said, ‘Look, if somebody with political elective office experience, either statewide or state congressional or somebody who had done it before,’ ” were running against Kirk, “trust me, I would not have done this,” Marter told me.

Now Marter is headed into a one-on-one March 15 Illinois primary against Kirk, a steep uphill fight to say the least.

Kirk, whose stands on social issues inflame the right wing of the Republican Party, is running for a second term without organized significant conservative opposition.

This does not mean all Republicans are happy with Kirk, who embraces the moderate label. They are not. It’s just that major conservative figures and the organizations that support them are not looking to pick a fight in Illinois.

The Club for Growth, no fan of Kirk on fiscal matters, did not work to recruit someone to run against him.

The highest-profile conservative to consider the 2016 race was former U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh, R-Ill., who decided not to run, sticking with his radio show.

U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill. | M. Spencer Green/AP file photo
U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill. | M. Spencer Green/AP file photo

The most conservative members of the Illinois GOP congressional delegation took a pass on running against Kirk — and all are endorsing him for re-election. That includes freshman Rep. Darin LaHood, who is the co-chair of Sen. Marco Rubio’s presidential campaign in Illinois. On Saturday, LaHood introduced Kirk at a Lincoln Day Luncheon sponsored by the Stark County Republican Central Committee.

Marter, undaunted by the odds, runs his shoestring campaign from his home office in Oswego. A Kendall County Republican precinct committeeman, he was raised in Bartonville in central Illinois and is a Purdue University graduate.


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Since launching a Senate bid, Marter hasn’t raised much money nor put on many staffers. His efforts are fueled by the grass roots, he told me. Marter, who turned 53 on Jan. 2, threw his first fundraiser on his birthday.

Senate candidates are required to file a Senate Public Financial Disclosure Report within 30 days after becoming a candidate. Marter’s Statement of Organization was received by the Federal Election Commission on Nov. 3, so his financial disclosure report is overdue.

I asked Marter about the omission. He said he was not aware of that deadline. “If there’s any problem there, we will rectify it immediately,” he said.

Marter said he is running mainly because he disagrees with Kirk, mainly over his stands on abortion, guns, immigration and some trade and fiscal issues.

Marter’s political bases, tracking these issues, are tea party activists in Illinois; anti-abortion groups; the gun lobby; and “people who want the government reigned in.”

“I started out with the premise that our current sitting senator is not the right guy to be representing the Republican Party in Illinois,” Marter said.

Kirk is “a Republican senator not voting the way a Republican should,” he added.

Marter said Kirk votes “pretty much with Dick Durbin,” which I pointed out to him is not true.

According to, which keeps tabs on Senate votes, Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, and Kirk, in the current 114th Congress, have voted together on 157 of 339 roll calls.

The conservative beefs with Kirk are on some high-profile issues on which he splits with Senate GOP leadership. Kirk voted with his party on 226 out of 293 roll calls — 77 percent of the time — according to OpenSecrets, looking at the latest votes. Durbin stuck with the Democrats on 298 out of 307 roll calls — 97 percent.

One area where Marter won’t criticize Kirk is his health. “Absolutely not,” Marter said. Kirk, who is recovering from a massive stroke that took him out of the Senate for almost a year, is “clearly doing his job.”

When it comes to Kirk, Marter said, “To me it’s about his issues. That’s why I got in.”

Follow Lynn Sweet on Twitter: @LynnSweet

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