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Kirk Commercials–Method to the Mawkishness?

Don Rose 26 May 2015 No Comment

Next year’s race for the US Senate in Illinois promises to be one of the more unusual battles in many years. It’s already under way with incumbent Republican Mark Kirk running commercials a year and a half before the general election because he senses who his strongest Democratic opponent will be.


You could almost call Kirk’s commercial a shameless bid for sympathy were not both his situation and his likely opponent’s so tragic. Both candidates are physically challenged–with the Democrat’s not only more serious, but the result of war wounds. Kirk’s issues are the result of a stroke, but he is milking them for all he can, essentially saying “my problems are almost as bad as hers.”

Kirk’s minute-long commercial takes us from the moment he was stricken, early in 2012, fearful he was dying, through a montage of his going through rehab to a year later when he was able to climb the Willis Tower and eventually the steps of the Capitol to the cheers of his colleagues–all the while proclaiming he was driven by love of country and desire to keep serving the people of Illinois. Especially veterans.

All seems to be fair in the political wars, so decide for yourself whether this is a mawkishly over the top or a legitimate appeal.

His feared opponent, though she faces serious primary competition, is two-term US Representative Tammy Duckworth (D., 8th), an Army helicopter pilot whose unit was mobilized in 2003 for service in Iraq. She was shot down a year later, losing both of her legs and partial use of her right arm. After being defeated for congress in 2006 by Peter Roskam, she was made head of the Illinois Dept. of Veterans Affairs; in 2009 President Obama appointed her Assistant Secretary of the US Dept. of Veterans Affairs. In 2012 she soundly defeated Republican Congressman Joe Walsh–while remaining active in the National Guard.

Duckworth, 47, the daughter of an American father and Chinese-Thai mother, is Illinois’s first Asian congressperson. She and her prosthetic legs are familiar images nationally because of her VA post.
That’s one powerful back story, so you can understand Kirk’s concerns, especially running in a presidential year in very blue Illinois.

Kirk, 56, served 10 years as congressman of the North Suburban 10th district. Known as a moderate conservative, he narrowly defeated State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias–viewed by many Democrats and independents as ethically challenged–in the 2010 race for Obama’s former senate seat.

Kirk was an intelligence officer in the Navy Reserve from 1989-2013 and was called up for several very brief stints in the Iraq-Afghanistan theaters, but never saw combat–though he got caught lying about having been fired upon while flying over Iraq. He also fibbed about having been named the Navy’s “intelligence officer of the year,” but still managed to squeak through in a big Republican year.

Small wonder Kirk is playing up his disability and patriotism. Are we soon going to see war footage of a crashing helicopter and more closeups of Duckworth’s prosthetic legs?

This race is going to be hard to watch.

Don Rose is a regular columnist for the Chicago Daily Observer

image Mr. Micawber

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