U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk’s campaign predicted Illinois would be “ground zero” in November’s battle for control of the Senate.
Now that the incumbent Republican and Democratic U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth have formally secured their parties’ nominations, that battle is officially on.
Kirk and Duckworth easily won their respective primaries Tuesday and now brace for what is sure to be a hard-fought — and bitter — general election campaign. Kirk is viewed as particularly vulnerable this year, prompting three Democrats to run for the chance to oppose him.
Duckworth topped former Chicago Urban League CEO Andrea Zopp and state Sen. Napoleon Harris. She led Tuesday night with 62.7 percent of the vote to Zopp’s 25.2 percent and Harris’ 12.1 percent with 55 percent of precincts reporting.
Kirk faced only Oswego software consultant James Marter in the Republican primary, who brought little name recognition or campaign cash to the race. With 55 percent of precincts reporting, Kirk led with 71.1 percent of the vote to Marter’s 28.9 percent.
After the race had been called, Kirk leaned on a cane as he slowly took the stage at his campaign headquarters and promised “bold contrasts” in the November election. He also took a shot at his general election opponent, saying Duckworth “repeatedly has failed.”
“I’ve been underrated in every election,” Kirk said. “I have beaten the odds and exceeded expectations. I have won every race. The next election will be no different.”
Duckworth later countered that “Kirk’s policies have left factories idle and dreams destroyed.”
“We are going to lead on strength and not fear,” Duckworth said. “Unfortunately, that’s a message that’s lost on Mark Kirk.”
Kirk’s “bold contrasts” theme played out at the candidates’ election-night parties. Kirk appeared at his small, hot and cramped high-rise headquarters near Monroe and Dearborn, while Duckworth made her speech in a wide-open space with big-screen TVs showing the local news at The Ivy Room near Ohio and State.
Tunes by Adele played through the speakers at Kirk’s party before he arrived. Duckworth’s supporters listened to “Take It Easy” by the Eagles just before she spoke.
Marter had challenged Kirk from the right, accusing him of abandoning Republican principles on issues such as gun control and immigration policy and by voting not to repeal Obamacare or de-fund Planned Parenthood.
But Kirk’s campaign touted his endorsements from leading Illinois Republicans, including Gov. Bruce Rauner and the GOP leaders in the Illinois House and Senate. A spokesman also said Kirk voted to repeal and replace Obamacare “over 40 times,” though the senator recently chose not to risk a government shutdown with another repeal vote.
And while the senator’s campaign insisted it took the challenge from Marter “very seriously,” it filled its website with anti-Duckworth rhetoric well ahead of the primary vote. It even referred to her in a tweet as a “naïve fool.”
Duckworth regularly takes her own shots at Kirk. She told supporters Tuesday night that Kirk would support GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump in the fall and declared, “those are not Illinois’ values.” She had also looked past the primary to the incumbent senator.
“My record speaks for itself, and I’m proud of it,” Duckworth has said. “I don’t have to defend my record. I’ve been a productive member of the House, and I have a long record of serving my state in uniform, in state government and now in federal office. I’m focused on Mark Kirk. I think that the more people who can talk about the failures of Mark Kirk as a senator, the better for the people of Illinois.”
Duckworth lost both of her legs when the Black Hawk helicopter she was co-piloting in Iraq was hit by a grenade in 2004. Kirk had a stroke in 2012 and has faced his own physical obstacles, including struggles with speech and having to learn to walk again.