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Tammy Duckworth exploring Senate run against Mark Kirk

WASHINGTON — In November, I reported that Rep. Tammy Duckworth D-Ill. was interested in running against Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., in 2016, and as she is winding up her maternity leave, she is exploring further a Senate bid.

“She’s definitely taking a hard look at it,” said a Duckworth confidant. Duckworth is starting to huddle with strategists and consider what it would take to mount a statewide campaign. The confidant said now that her baby is two months old, Duckworth is turning to exploring a bid.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, the Senate Democratic political shop and EMILY’s List, the major Democratic group focused on female contenders, also is talking about a Duckworth run.

Duckworth has been off on maternity leave. She was in Washington earlier in the month for a day to be sworn in for a second term. She intends to return to work in the district mid-February and be back in the Capitol by the end of next month.

Duckworth is the strongest contender that Illinois Democrats have against Kirk. Rep. Bill Foster, D-Ill., also is actively considering a Senate run.

She is a wounded Iraq War vet who lost her legs and shattered an arm when her helicopter was shot down. Kirk, a retired Navy officer, is recovering from a massive stroke that kept him out of the Senate for a year.

Kirk, meanwhile, is stepping up his profile, fundraising and assembling a 2016 campaign team. He is scheduled to appear on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Tuesday.

After serving in the House, Kirk won his first Senate term in 2010. “Whoever runs against Mark Kirk will be running in the bluest competitive Senate state on the map in a presidential year,” DSCC spokesman Justin Barasky said.

“Mark Kirk is one of the most vulnerable senators in the country,” he said.

Illinois Republican Party Chairman Tim Schneider weighed in on the upcoming contest, throwing some darts at Duckworth and Foster.

“With the November election barely behind us, it is disappointing to see Representatives Foster and Duckworth immediately turning their attention to politics, particularly considering the major challenges confronting both Illinois and our nation.”

What I wrote in November:

Duckworth is the only Democrat in Illinois who can cut into the enormous goodwill Kirk has stockpiled as a result of a massive stroke that kept him out of the Senate for almost a year.

Both Duckworth and Kirk use wheelchairs and canes.

Duckworth, who was a lieutenant colonel in the guard — and is on the House Armed Services Committee — has the standing to erode one of Kirk’s major selling points: his military experience.

Kirk, who stepped up to the Senate after five terms in the House, is a retired Navy intelligence officer. He has always highlighted his intel background during his campaigns, including his 2010 Senate race against the Democratic nominee, then-state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias.