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Mark Kirk endorsed by Sun-Times in Illinois GOP Senate primary

Below, the Chicago Sun-Times endorsement…..

In the last two U.S. Senate races in Illinois, the Republican Party was essentially a no-show. The results were predictably disastrous as the GOP was stuck in 2006 with out-of-state, out-of-touch Alan Keyes against Barack Obama and in 2008 with a political unknown against Dick Durbin. Now Republicans have a chance to reverse their fortunes with a quality candidate who could hand the Democrats an embarrassment in November by capturing Obama’s former Senate seat. That candidate is Mark Kirk.

An effective five-term congressman from the north suburbs, Kirk has pro-growth views on the economy, a personal commitment to the military and a moderate stance on social issues that could attract independent voters who favored Democrats in recent elections. Smart and detail-orientated, he can captivate an audience with an in-depth, nuanced discussion of complicated issues such as the implications of closing the Guantanamo detention facility or an assessment of the Afghan war.

On the war, the naval reserve intelligence officer speaks with the authority of firsthand experience. Having just completed his second deployment to the war zone, Kirk offers a sobering analysis of the challenge of building the 400,000-strong Afghan security forces necessary for a significant U.S. withdrawal.

He also has served in Kosovo, Iraq, Bosnia and Haiti. His naval background only partly explains his cosmopolitan views. Educated at universities in Washington (Georgetown law degree), London and Mexico City (he’s fluent in Spanish), Kirk began his career working for former Illinois Rep. John Porter, whom he succeeded. His resume includes service with the State Department, the House International Relations Committee and private law practice.

On the domestic front, he cites the economy and integrity as related issues. Kirk sees businesses choosing to invest in neighboring Indiana because of a more honest political and government environment. He relates a sad tale about this state’s reputation. On Kirk’s most recent deployment, an Afghan official identified the congressman as a politician from Illinois and quipped: in Afghanistan, “We know corruption, but not like that!”

As a senator, Kirk would work to extend the Bush tax cuts, reduce the capital gains tax, ban political contributions from earmark recipients and repeal the Democrats’ health-care bill. He’s a reliable ally of Israel, a proponent of sanctions to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons and an opponent of closing Gitmo or releasing more detainees to return to the terror war.

On the local front, Kirk has been a leader in efforts to protect Lake Michigan, develop high-speed rail and modernize O’Hare Airport, a top priority for Mayor Daley. Such efforts and a record of working with Democratic leaders such as Durbin demonstrate Kirk’s commitment to put party quibbling aside to get results on key local issues.

Also to be commended is an independent record of bucking the GOP on some issues, such as his pro-choice stance. That image was tarnished a bit when he tacked right to appease conservatives by repudiating his vote for cap-and-trade energy legislation and seeming to reach out for support from Sarah Palin, whom he previously shunned.

That said, Kirk is firmly in the moderate camp. Republicans looking for a hard conservative might consider, among the five other GOP contenders, Patrick Hughes. He’s an articulate Hinsdale lawyer and real estate developer with far right views who opposes all abortions.

But Republicans looking for a winner in November will stick with Kirk. His district returned him to Congress by a comfortable margin in 2008, even as it went for Obama. Kirk is such a formidable candidate that he scared the Democratic powers in Springfield out of holding a special election to replace Obama in the Senate, setting the stage for the farce of Rod Blagojevich appointing Roland Burris.

Illinois deserves better, and Kirk could deliver for the GOP and the state.