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Kirk Campaign a Problem for DC, Not for Illinois

Greg Blankenship 24 July 2009 6 Comments

The unrest among Illinois conservatives is palpable, to say the least, of US Rep. Mark Kirk’s (R-10) entry in the US Senate Primary for Pres. Obama’s former Senate seat. That conservative unrest is understandable, but before resources are used against Kirk, let me suggest that ambivalence may be a more profitable approach to his candidacy.

Conservatives have long disdained the North Shore Republican’s liberal voting record in the House of Representatives. He has gone against the mainstream of his party on pro-life issues, the War on Terror and gun control. He openly admits he is running as a fiscally conservative socially moderate Republican. That is positioning that historically does well in Illinois general elections but is anathema to the center-right.

This attitude in only reinforced by the fact that on the fiscally conservative side of things Kirk isn’t all that conservative, either. According to Project Vote Smart, Kirk received a 60 percent (100 percent being perfect) in 2007 from Americans for Tax Reform. In 2006 he was with them 82% of the time. Similarly, the National Taxpayers Union gave Kirk a C- in its 2007 rankings. As a tax pledge signer Kirk has committed to his constituents to vote against any and all tax hikes. His Cap and Trade vote earlier this summer was clearly at odds with that commitment.

Another credential he seems to rely on is his national security bonafides as a naval reserve intelligence officer. But then again, he was part of a congressional delegation that went to the Bush Administration in opposition to what was a very successful counter insurgency in Iraq. That doesn’t burnish his credentials on the right, either.

While the above may be appealing to those who see Illinois as a naturally purple state, the prairie state does have a vocal and growing conservative movement – at least in terms of its importance in the Republican Primary electorate. The last moderate Republican to win the gubernatorial nomination, then State Treasurer Judy-Baar Topinka won after conservatives split between to more conservative candidates. Conservatives breached 51% in the primary.

Former US Sen. Peter Fitzgerald defeated the establishment’s moderate choice in 1998. In 1996 Al Salvi ran to the right of the moderate establishment candidate, Lt. Gov. Bob Kustra, and defeated him in a US Senate primary. Clearly, if a legitimate center-right challenger were to emerge Kirk would be in trouble. Lucky for him no one has stepped forward and party leaders and elected officials appear to be accepting Kirk.

Kirk was the choice of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. The NRSC is a party unto itself whose only job is to win senate seats sans ideology. They made it clear that Kirk was their man because he can raise money and he won handsomely in a district carried by Pres. Obama. Democrats who began running Internet advertisements against Kirk before he entered the contest only reinforced that opinion.

Conservatives however appear willing to mount what would be a divisive effort against Kirk. Many don’t believe he can win a general without conservative, aka the base’s, support. They may be right, but rolling out the circular firing squad this time is probably not a wise use of limited resources.

First, and foremost, Kirk has proven he can raise money and garner support from the NRSC without conservative support and despite his cap and trade vote. If he is the NRSC’s prodigal son and they are willing to fund him, let them. While he won’t be a conservative vote, he’ll be a vote to organize the Senate for the more conservative leadership if miracle of miracles the Senate goes Republican in the next two cycles.He’s a vote in support of a filibuster at best and he isn’t, no matter what anyone says, going to poke a stick in people’s eye like an Arlen Specter (D-PA) or John McCain (R-AZ) seem to relish. And given the long way back to the Senate majority, his socially liberal positions just aren’t a factor.

Second, in Illinois US Senate is a down ballot seat. A moderate NRSC senate candidate frees money and grass roots support for the top of the ballot. Right now, a conservative State Sen., Bill Brady (R-Bloomington), leads in fundraising. His biggest rival is most likely State Sen. Kirk Dillard (R-Westmont) is less reliable but his voting records suggests he’s more likely to be open to conservatives. Three second tier candidates, State Sen. Matt Murphy (R-Palatine), Dan Proft of Chicago and Adam Andrzejewski, suburban Chicago, are all solid conservatives. And with Andzejewski’s self-funding ability and Proft’s “sharp elbows” there is really no front-runner in the race.

Grass roots support, financial support and oxygen are best spent on winning the governorship not getting lathered up over a minority senate seat. Conservatives needn’t support nor carp about Mark Kirk’s senate race. He’s Washington’s problem. The NRSC can use their resources on Kirk and conservatives are freed to concentrate their efforts to help elect a governor. It’s an efficient division of labor that could be far more profitable for conservatives and Illinois.


Greg Blankenship is the President of the Illinois Alliance for Growth

image Clinton Nuclear Power Station, Clinton, IL


  • Adam B said:

    Greg, in your rundown of the Gov race, you neglected to mention the Republican candidate that actually has the MOST money ($550,000), DuPage County Chairman Bob Shillerstrom. Whether you think he is first or second tier, he should at least be mentioned, particularly since he has the largest bank account.

  • J Stone said:

    Mark Kirk for Senate!!!

  • JAC said:

    Kirk is a democrat posing as a republican. He voted FOR Cap and Tax.
    I am going to tell thousands of people via email, in person, whatever it takes. DO NOT VOTE FOR KIRK.

  • Greg Blankeship said:

    You are absolutely correct, Adam. I’ve been out of it for a few days and it completely slipped my mind that Bob was in. Apologies to him, his campaign and all the readers.



  • IL USMC said:

    As a 100% service disabled combat veteran I appreciate what Mr. Kirk did in saving the North Chicago VA medical center, for this and his service in Afghanistan he’ll have my vote.

  • Keith said:

    Well, I don’t agree with Rep. Kirk on some issues (particularly his fiscal record and Cap and Trade) I will support him because right now I believe he is the best option. If conservatives don’t support him then we might as well give an open seat to a liberal Democrat till the Democrat decides to retire. At least a moderate Republican will help conservatives control the Senate and vote for a Conservative leadership. The party with the most seats controls the floor and the agenda. Controlling the floor and agenda will help to advance conservative principles.

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