Kirk not issue in Senate race
A recent controversy among Illinois Republicans shows why officeholders from opposing parties often keep quiet about their friendships.
Illinois' U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk sparked concerns among his fellow Republicans by stating that he will not be assisting his party's effort to defeat Democratic incumbent U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin in the fall election.
In response to a question about whether he'll campaign for GOP state Sen. Jim Oberweis to defeat Durbin, Kirk said he has other plans.
"I'm gonna be protecting my relationship with Dick and not launching into a partisan jihad that hurts our partnership to both pull together for Illinois," Kirk said.
It's a rare politician who actually answers questions truthfully, so Kirk deserves credit for candor, at the very least.
But with candor sometimes comes controversy, and it was no surprise that some Republicans didn't appreciate Kirk's concern for preserving his relationship with Durbin, who has a reputation as a skilled political knife-fighter who melds a gee-whiz demeanor with a hyper-partisan approach.
Oberweis took Kirk's statement in stride, saying he respects "Sen. Kirk's goal of maintaining a respectful relationship with his Democratic colleagues in Washington, just as I do in Springfield."
But other Republicans accused Kirk of a display of disloyalty that will cost him votes if he runs for re-election in 2016.
Time heals all wounds, even intra-party squabbles that can resemble the worst of family fights.
But, aside from that, there are other factors in play that might temper GOP anxiety.
Kirk is Illinois' junior U.S. Senator, and Durbin Illinois' senior senator. Even if they disagree on some big issues, like Obamacare, they have to work together on issues of mutual concern regarding the state of Illinois. It's not uncommon in Congress for legislators of different parties but from the same state to negotiate non-aggression pacts. If the public is serious about wanting Democrats and Republicans to work together without rancor, this is one way of doing so.
A second factor at play is more personal. Kirk is recovering from a debilitating stroke that has left him with serious physical challenges. Durbin seems to have gone out of his way — both personally and professionally — to assist Kirk in his recovery. Not everything in Washington is about politics, and the Kirk/Durbin relationship reflects that reality.
While Kirk may have cost himself style points among party loyalists, some of whom already question his reputation as a political moderate, the bottom line is that the fall election will be decided by Durbin, Oberweis and the voters.
A veteran member of Congress, Durbin is the clear favorite. He has money and the power of incumbency on his side. Further, he's a Democrat running in a heavily Democratic state.
While Durbin has the advantage, he's no shoe-in, particularly if political analysts are correct in their assertions that this will be a Republican year. Durbin is in the position of defending a shaky status quo while Oberweis can go on the attack.
Impolitic though they may have been, Kirk's comments signify nothing. Only an embittered elephant will either care or remember them in six months.