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Kirk-Duckworth race heats up with TV ad, lawsuit development

Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., \(AP File Photo/Alex Brandon)

The Senate race between Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., and Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., was active on several fronts on Thursday, including Kirk launching his first paid ad since the primary and a politically troublesome lawsuit involving Duckworth possibly heading towards a settlement.


A centerpiece of Kirk’s re-election strategy is to promote the first-term senator as a political independent, and events have played to his favor.

Kirk’s new spot highlights his opposition to GOP presumptive nominee Donald Trump and Kirk being the first Republican to call for a hearing and a vote for President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland. Kirk’s ad even uses the stroke he suffered that kept him out of the Senate for a year while he recovered.

The 32-second spot, to run on Chicago broadcast and cable outlets through the end of the month, is backed with a buy of about $285,000. That contrasts with a statewide, $850,000 buy for two spots that ran in February and March attacking Duckworth as weak on national security. The Illinois primary was March 15.

The new Kirk spot, titled “Even More” is narrated by a woman and touches on themes that are gauged to appeal to suburban Chicago female swing voters who are prime Kirk targets.

The spot says “Mark was the first Republican to support a vote on President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee. He’s a leader on protecting a woman’s right to choose. And Mark Kirk bucked his party to say Donald Trump is not fit to be commander in chief.”

What the spot does not say – that before Kirk dumped Trump, in March Kirk said he would support him if he won the nomination.

The Duckworth campaign has not run paid television since the primary.


Another element of Kirk’s strategy has been to throw a spotlight on a civil lawsuit against Duckworth that has been percolating for years, relating to her tenure as the director of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs. She was appointed to the job by then Gov. Rod Blagojevich, now serving a 14-year federal prison sentence following convictions on corruption charges.

Kirk and his allies have been trying to impugn Duckworth through her association with Blagojevich.

The Kirk camp has been emphasizing the potential that Duckworth may have to testify in the Downstate Union County case, with a trial set for Aug. 15. The Kirk campaign even sent out “save the date” postcards with the message, “Tammy Duckworth VS. IDVA Whistleblowers.”

In a new development, a pretrial settlement conference was set for Friday – and the Kirk campaign seized on that, saying in a release on Thursday that “Duckworth is now having a change of heart as her taxpayer-funded legal team is engaged in closed-door talks to settle her case.”

Maura Possley, a spokesman for Attorney General Lisa Madigan said Thursday that Judge David Boie, the trial judge, “initiated the settlement conference.” The Illinois Attorney General is the lawyer for state officials sued in their official capacities – no matter their political party — and is representing Duckworth in the case.

Tammy Duckworth in March. File Photo. Brian Jackson/ for the Sun-Times

Tammy Duckworth in March. File Photo. Brian Jackson/ for the Sun-Times

In the lawsuit, two employees of the Anna Veterans Home claim they were retaliated against by Duckworth in 2007 for complaining about their boss Patricia Simms, the home’s acting administrator.

According to lawsuit documents, after the two employees filed complaints about their supervisor, Duckworth, then director of the IDVA, visited the Anna facility and terminated one of them, Christine Butler, an executive secretary at the home, for being “insubordinate” to Simms and herself.

Simms was also reprimanded by Duckworth, according to Butler’s deposition.

Butler told Duckworth’s attorneys that she believes she was terminated in retaliation for her filing reports about suspicious activities at Anna.