WASHINGTON — Rep. Mark Kirk, who casts himself as a moderate, on Monday dodged questions about whether he wanted help from conservative former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin in his race for Senate — only to have the truth surface Wednesday. He is indeed soliciting her support — when she hits Chicago later this month to appear on the “Oprah Winfrey Show.”
The Washington Post was the first to obtain a memo Kirk sent to Palin through an intermediary, GOP activist Fred Malek. Noting that Palin will be in Chicago for Winfrey’s show — Palin will be on a book tour — Kirk’s memo asserts “the Chicago media will focus on one key issue: Does Gov[ernor] Palin oppose Congressman Mark Kirk’s bid to take the Obama Senate seat for the Republicans?”
Kirk requested something “quick and decisive” from Palin about the race, suggesting she say: “Voters in Illinois have a key opportunity to take Barack Obama’s Senate seat. Congressman Kirk is the lead candidate to do that.”
Sun-Times political writer Abdon Pallasch, at Kirk’s Monday news conference in Chicago, said Kirk refused to answer when asked if he wanted Palin — controversial but popular among the party’s right — to do an event for him.
Kirk’s campaign manager, Eric Elk, said in a statement that Kirk sent Palin a briefing memo “including talking points” on Kirk and the race and “only requested supportive comments.”
That Kirk is courting Palin takes on more significance, however, after Tuesday’s balloting for an open House seat in New York yielded a Democratic win after the moderate Republican was driven out of the race by Palin and others who supported the third party conservative candidate.
Conservatives may be shopping for other moderates to knock off. But the reality in Illinois is very different from New York or other places. Though the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has been trying to pump Kirk’s seven primary rivals as real threats, they are barely known and hardly register in polls.
As of Sept. 30, Kirk had $2.3 million on hand; five rivals raised less than $2,000. There are just better fights for conservatives to pick.
Kirk does not need to chase Palin to inoculate himself against a challenge from the right; her embrace could well be an issue in the general election.
The three front-running Illinois Senate Democratic hopefuls — Cheryle Jackson, David Hoffman and Alexi Giannoulias — pounced on Kirk’s soliciting Palin in their statements. They say it proves that Kirk — whose suburban North Shore 10th District is heavily Democratic — is lurching to and pandering to the right for the Republican primary.
Kirk has been running a cautious Senate race and discouraging routine media coverage. The campaign does not even issue a schedule of Kirk election events. Kirk was even trying to control what the outspoken Palin would say. Now that’s going rogue.