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Brown: Duckworth calls Kirk ‘unhinged’ — but quickly closes door

U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth spoke to the City Club of Chicago Tuesday afternoon. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

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For months now, Rep. Tammy Duckworth’s Senate campaign has been pushing the angle that there’s no accounting for the strange stuff that comes out of Sen. Mark Kirk’s mouth.

On Tuesday, Duckworth joined the fray directly, calling Kirk “unhinged” for his latest over-the-top head scratcher in which he criticized President Barack Obama as “acting like the drug dealer in chief.”

Duckworth went so far as to say she thinks her Republican opponent “lacks the ability to control what he’s saying,” but backed away quickly when asked if she was suggesting some problem related to Kirk’s stroke.

OPINION

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If nothing else, it was a welcome-to-the-campaign moment for Duckworth, who has been a rare public presence in Chicago since winning the Democratic nomination. It’s always better for voters when the candidates are engaged directly instead of relying on paid campaign staff to wage their battles.

In a speech to the City Club of Chicago, Duckworth said Kirk’s comments in reference to the Obama Administration’s $400 million cash payment to Iran fit a pattern of “irresponsible, offensive rhetoric, as well as personal insults directed at the president.”

“Senator Kirk has joined the rogue’s gallery of the President’s fiercest — and most unhinged — critics, and for that he should be ashamed,” Duckworth said. “What he said is beneath the dignity of the office he now holds, and Senator Kirk should apologize immediately to the president, as well as to the people of Illinois.”

Asked by reporters afterward about her own word choice, Duckworth defended her characterization of Kirk.

“If you look at all the things that he’s said, I think he lacks the ability to control what he’s saying,” she said. “I do think he’s unhinged.”

When another reporter followed up by asking if she thought the lack of control was an after effect of the stroke that voters should take into consideration, Duckworth tried to sidestep that hot potato.

“I think that is the furthest thing that people should look at. People should look at the fact that he’s been ineffective as a senator,” she said.

I don’t think anyone needs to raise the issue of Kirk’s health or whether he lacks an “ability to control” what he says to question whether that’s what they want from their U.S. senator.

Judge the man by his performance, one important aspect of which is the outlandish stuff that he says.

Duckworth referenced a couple of Kirk’s greatest hits, including his “bro with no ho” reference to South Carolina’s unmarried Sen. Lindsey Graham.

Obama’s proposed pact to limit Iran’s development of nuclear weapons has been a major topic of Kirk’s blurt.

Kirk accused Obama of trying “to get nukes to Iran” and later called the Iran deal “the greatest appeasement since Chamberlain gave Czechoslovakia to Hitler.”

Kirk was addressing the Springfield Journal-Register editorial board last week when he criticized the $400 million payment to Iran, which he has characterized as a ransom to free three American prisoners.

“We can’t have the President of the United States acting like the drug dealer in chief,” he reportedly said.

The Iran deal is obviously fair game for political debate, but as Duckworth said, “you can disagree with the president without resorting to this kind of inflammatory rhetoric.”

The Duckworth campaign even has launched a tumblr site, “$#*% My Senator Says,” a nod to the popular “S*** My Dad Says” Twitter feed that became a book and television sitcom.

Duckworth’s attack on Kirk overshadowed what she had billed as the purpose of her City Club speech: to lay out her economic vision for Illinois.

Kirk’s campaign manager brushed aside Duckworth’s comments as a “desperate” effort to “change the subject from her pending legal troubles as Rod Blagojevich’s Director of Veteran Affairs.”

It would have been more fun to hear what Kirk had to say.

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