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Democratic Rep. Bill Foster talking to big donors about U.S. Senate race

WASHINGTON — Rep. Bill Foster, D-Ill., has been feeling out major Illinois Democratic donors about a 2016 run against Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., I am told by people with direct knowledge of the conversations.

Foster, who represents the west suburban 11th Congressional District, is putting himself in play as Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill. — who could have the nomination for the asking — also considers a run. The two centrist Democrats would share much of the same high-end Illinois Democratic donor base.

OPINION

Foster is not known statewide and has a very low profile in the Chicago area, where he is eclipsed by other Illinois Democratic members of Congress who constantly score free media: Duckworth, Rep. Mike Quigley, Rep. Jan Schakowsky, Rep. Luis Gutierrez and Rep. Bobby Rush.

Foster, who is deliberative and methodical in his approach to a Senate bid, is considering the run as I am told he theorizes that Illinois Democratic turnout will surge in 2016 if Hillary Rodham Clinton is the Democratic presidential nominee.

However, Illinois Democrats first have to figure out why so many stayed home in 2014. Low Democratic turnout contributed to the defeat of Gov. Pat Quinn and Rep. Brad Schneider, D-Ill., in the north suburban 10th Congressional District.

Foster is a physicist and businessman — a founder of a theater lighting company — first elected to Congress in March 2008. Defeated for re-election in 2010, Foster made a comeback in 2012 and was re-elected in November.

Next month marks the second year Kirk has been back in the Senate, following a year off to recover from a stroke.

Duckworth, a wounded Iraq war vet — who like Kirk uses a wheelchair and cane — is the best hope of the Democrats because she can neutralize any advantage Kirk would have because of his disability. They both are retired military officers.

Duckworth delivered a baby girl last month and is on maternity leave.

I reported in November that a member of Duckworth’s team said Duckworth is “interested, open and curious” about a Senate bid. But she may want to put off a Senate run for a few years. If Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., presumably retires in six years — Duckworth for now is his presumed heir.

After Duckworth, the Democrat bench is thin.

Quinn’s name is popping up; there is some chatter over Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., from a northwestern Illinois district. Foster’s team said he is focusing on district business.

Kirk, a former House member elected to the Senate in 2010, has been raising 2016 money through a local and national network and can inherit — if he wants it — Gov-elect Bruce Rauner’s statewide campaign apparatus.

In the past years and up through this week, Kirk has carved out a distinctive voting record that will make him tough for Illinois Democrats to beat.

Kirk was the crucial 51st vote — and only Republican — on Tuesday to confirm Vivek Murtha as President Barack Obama’s surgeon general, putting him in place for a four-year term. That vote earned him the ire of the National Rifle Association crowd. But presuming Kirk is the nominee, that vote for Murtha helps Kirk with moderate Illinois Republicans, suburban women and crossover Democrats.