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Sen. Dick Durbin runs race of his life to defeat Oberweis

Bittersweet, perhaps.

Sen. Dick Durbin’s win Tuesday over GOP challenger Jim Oberweis was never in doubt once it was clear that Oberweis was running a weak campaign, grasping for a strategy to defeat Durbin, who ran the race of his life even though it turned out he didn’t need all that the firepower.

But Durbin is facing a potential erosion of his enormous power and influence on Capitol Hill, dampening the high of giving Oberweis a really big thumping.

That’s because Democrats lost control of the Senate to Republicans, a matter in which Durbin has big stake because he is the assistant majority leader, the No. 2 position in the Senate.

Republicans will be in charge of the Senate for the first time in eight years when the next Congress is sworn in next January.

Durbin told me Tuesday night he wants to remain in the No. 2 spot in the Senate Democratic leadership. Senate Democrats meet on Nov. 13 to pick the leaders for the next Congress. “I am going to ask my caucus to support me in that position,” Durbin said.

Durbin backs Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to lead the Democrats again — if that’s what Reid wants.

If Reid decides to stand down — then I am guessing that Durbin and his Washington, D.C., roommate, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., will tangle over the top spot.

With the GOP in charge of the Senate, Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., will claim the chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee panel controlling Veterans Affairs and Military Construction funds.

As a Senate moderate, Kirk told me he will have a “unique influence” in the chamber. As Kirk ramps up his 2016 re-election campaign, he will be a force to counter Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, a 2016 presidential hopeful, who was willing to shut down the federal government last year

“I look forward to my role saying, ‘Hey guys, let’s govern from the center,’ ” Kirk told me.

Kirk told me his first push will be for a vote on the measure he has authored, with Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., to force tougher economic sanctions on Iran.

But I’m getting ahead of events.

Durbin had several roles this cycle: to get re-elected; to help the Illinois Democratic state ticket — he made sure the White House delivered for Gov. Pat Quinn — bolstering Illinois congressional candidates in the toughest races; and to help other Senate Democrats.

Durbin realized from Day One how much the technology had changed since he last ran in 2008 — you know, micro-targeting and all that — and was focused on installing all the latest in his campaign. But all that stuff matters only if you know how to apply all that data. His campaign manager, Anna Valencia, ran Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s field operation and was a veteran of many Illinois state and congressional campaigns.

Durbin’s campaign press secretary, Ron Holmes, came from the office of Illinois Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago. And his fundraiser, Nancy Kohn, has the number of every Democratic donor in the area.

Durbin and his political team knew Illinois, from Cairo to Chicago. Durbin constantly traveled the state — on government and political business — while Oberweis sought publicity by hanging around the South Side of Chicago. Seeking usually Democratic African-American votes was commendable, but Oberweis miscalculated in thinking he could win enough to make a difference.