Our Pledge To You


Debates will help settle Kirk-Duckworth race

Mark Kirk looks forward to the Senate race against Duckworth in the fall, Tuesday March 15, 2016. | Kevin Tanaka/For the Sun-Times

His own poll spells trouble for U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk.

As the general election kicks off, Kirk lags behind U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth, his opponent and Democratic Senate nominee, 42.7 percent to 39.6 percent. About 18 percent of likely general election voters said they were undecided.

The poll of 600 voters was taken for Kirk by the GS Strategy Group on March 30 and 31. That means the race for U.S. Senate in Illinois contest “remains incredibly tight,” Greg Strimple of GS noted in a memo.


Kirk’s campaign released the survey to reporters last week. That might seem counter-intuitive, but perhaps he is sending early notice to GOP supporters that they must work overtime to save his seat.

They already got that memo. In October, Politico reported that Kirk was “the most endangered Republican in the country.”

Both are well-known incumbents with well-matched bios.

Duckworth, the disabled Iraq War veteran and Purple Heart recipient, has represented Illinois’ 8th Congressional District since 2012.

Kirk, elected in 2010, is a blue state GOP moderate and former Navy intelligence officer who was disabled by a severe stroke in 2012.

One question the poll did not ask is the question of the campaign: Will there be a Duckworth v. Kirk debate?

In high-stakes campaigns, debates can elevate — and destroy.

Just ask Donald Trump, who still holds his unlikely front runner status in the brutal 2016 presidential campaign, in part thanks to his ability to slice and dice his debate opponents. Via Trump, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio memorably is now known as “little Marco.” Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is “Lyin’ Ted.” Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is the “low energy” guy.

Duckworth bested her two primary opponents by ducking debates and banking on her high name recognition. Loath to give lesser known challengers a free media platform, Duckworth agreed to only one traditional debate.

Kirk did not debate his primary opponent at all.

In this incredibly tight general election, that’s not going to happen.

As the challenger, Duckworth will hotly pursue a live, one-on-one with Kirk, to capitalize on the persistent theory that Kirk is not battle ready.

Last July, prominent GOP donor Ron Gidwitz told Crain’s Chicago Business that Kirk should not seek re-election because of “misstatements” that compromised public confidence in the senator. Gidwitz, swiftly admonished by Republican honchos, withdrew his statement within hours, saying he didn’t want “to take the heat.”

Duckworth happily took up the charge. Her campaign dispatched outraged press releases and a web video to remind voters of Kirk’s verbal faux pas. For example, that the Illinois senator referred to colleague Lindsey Graham as “a ‘bro with no ho.” (Kirk subsequently apologized).

In a radio interview, Kirk referred to the president as “Barack Hussein Obama,” who, Kirk said, wants “to get nukes to Iran.”

And he said “we drive faster through” African American neighborhoods.

Given his illness, Kirk has made remarkable strides. He seems present and active on Capitol Hill, most recently via his high-profile meeting with Merrick Garland, Obama’s Supreme Court nominee.

Kirk, however, does relatively few public, unscripted appearances. In political circles, some still fret that his health woes have limited his verbal skills and political acumen.

Another question voters should ask: Does Illinois’ junior senator have the stuff to serve as an engaged and credible full-time senator for another six years?

All polls aside, a debate, or two, will tell.

Email: LauraSWashington@aol.com
Follow Laura Washington on Twitter: Follow @MediaDervish