WASHINGTON — The leaders of the National Republican Senatorial Committee seemed to be trying to help Andrea Zopp beat Tammy Duckworth in the Democratic Illinois primary by linking Duckworth to the very unpopular Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Thursday.
Ward Baker, the executive director of the committee, talking about Duckworth said: “I think people understand, do you want typical Chicago politics, do you want someone that is going to be a failure, like Rahm Emanuel, or do you want Sen. Kirk that represents Illinois?”
Emanuel’s name surfaced during a discussion of Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., and the Illinois Senate race with Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., the chair of the NRSC and Baker at a reporters’ breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.
Senate Republicans have 24 seats to defend in November, and Kirk is one of the Democrats’ top targets. Kirk is in a tough fight, and the NRSC is going to go all out to help him win.
Duckworth, a two-term House member, is seen as Kirk’s strongest challenger. Zopp, from team Kirk’s perspective, would be easier to beat. That’s why it is worth a little effort for Republicans to try to knock down Duckworth, to help get a weaker Democrat to run against.
In the March primary, Duckworth faces Zopp, an attorney, and state Sen. Napoleon Harris, D-Harvey, who so far is running only a nominal campaign.
Zopp has only one main path to winning the nomination: Turning out a big African-American vote for herself. Emanuel is not popular anywhere in the city right now. He has deep problems in African-American precincts in the wake of the Laquan McDonald police shooting and other controversies.
One of Zopp’s beefs has been that the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee backed Duckworth from the start – and didn’t give her a chance.
At the breakfast, Baker took up Zopp’s cause. “The DSCC and the Washington establishment have endorsed Tammy Duckworth and they have gone against an African-American businesswoman named Andrea Zopp,” he said.
Wicker then opined about Chicago politics, though his facts were scrambled when he reached back all the way to 1992, when former Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun defeated then-Sen. Alan Dixon in her Democratic primary, putting her on the path to be the first African-American female senator.
“You know that the Democratic primary in Illinois can come up with some very strange results,” Wicker said. “I remember Alan Simpson waking up” said Wicker — mistakenly using the name of a former Wyoming senator instead of Alan Dixon — finding that he was beaten by Moseley-Braun.
I covered that primary and there was nothing strange in the results. Moseley-Braun beat two men with massive female support — after Dixon voted to confirm Clarence Thomas for the Supreme Court despite the sexual harassment allegations by Anita Hill.
Kirk has been allied with GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner — ho is also very unpopular at present — though not in the sub-basement where Emanuel is — so I asked the NRSC leaders if Rauner will be a drag on Kirk.
Baker switched back to Emanuel in his answer: “I read Rahm Emanuel’s book and he says in his book he created Tammy Duckworth,” Baker said.
Well, Emanuel never wrote a book about Duckworth. Baker was talking about someone else’s book.
Since I was there at the time and covered the birth of Duckworth’s political career, here’s what happened. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill. discovered Duckworth, not Emanuel.
Durbin, then-Sen. Barack Obama and then-Rep. Rahm Emanuel, who was the chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, recruited her to run for a House seat in 2006. Emanuel had a role — but he didn’t create Duckworth.
Duckworth lost that 2006 House bid but went on to win her first congressional term in 2012.
Anyway, last month, Duckworth started to link Kirk to Rauner, at a Chicago State University event to blast Rauner’s “exteme agenda” that threatens to close the school, which has a high African-American enrollment
And if you did not notice — President Barack Obama did a big, deliberate show of support for Duckworth on Wednesday, when he invited her to fly to Springfield with him on Air Force One. And he’s popular in Illinois.
Follow Lynn Sweet on Twitter: @LynnSweet