Illinois Republican party chairman Andy McKenna announced today that he won’t be pursuing a Senate campaign if GOP congressman Mark Kirk wants to run, clearing the way for Kirk to face an uncontested GOP nomination.
“As Party Chairman my goal has been to build Party unity. Mark Kirk and I met last evening as part of an ongoing discussion about the U. S. Senate race. I reassured Mark that if he chooses to be a candidate, I will not oppose him,” McKenna said in a statement.
McKenna’s comments come after he mulled challenging Kirk in the Republican primary, angered over the congressman’s recent cap-and-trade vote. Kirk told party officials Friday that he would run only if they ensured his own party chairman wouldn’t run against him.
Kirk is now expected to pursue a Senate campaign, landing Republicans their leading recruit. But his hesitance to make his intentions official (and public) has raised some doubts about how successful he will be in translating his local political success in the Chicago suburbs into a rough-and-tumble statewide campaign.
Politically speaking, I can't imagine a scenario in Illinois where Mark Kirk doesn't pick up this seat in a cakewalk. His biggest competition from the Democrats for the seat would have been Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, but she backed out last week in favor of working on being reelected to her current position. One assumes she sees the Governor's mansion in her sights, needing only to wait out the more-comical-by-the-day Pat Quinn.
Next in line seems to be Illinois Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias. Giannoulias defeated Christine Radogno for the position in 2006 after being endorsed by then Senator Obama. He seems to have done a fairly competent job thus far as Treasurer, instituting some common sense monetary policy at the State level, and making some sound investment decisions. However, while his position as Treasurer really doesn't put him in charge of how our state spends its money, the fact of the matter is that he has been the one signing the checks, in effect, while our state has found itself mired in a $11.5 billion budget deficit. This is far too easy a target for Kirk to stick on Giannoulias during the election for Alexi to get out from under. To follow, I don't know enough about Alexi's politics to find him even a remote possibility, even with President Obama's backing. And considering how things are going lately, what good will that even be come 2010? Kirk's experience at the federal level alone should find him trouncing Giannoulias.
That leaves newcomer, and political legacy, Christopher George Kennedy, son of RFK, and the current owner of the Merchandise Mart. In running the Mart, Kennedy has taken an active role in the "greening" of the world's largest commercial building, obtaining for it a LEED-EB Certification in 2007. It seems relatively unlikely to me that Kennedy will bode much of a challenge for Kirk, either, given his general lack of experience in politics in general, much less at the Federal level.
Interestingly enough, perhaps Kennedy's green credentials serve as a reason that Kirk ultimately became one of the Cap-and-Tax Eight, currently so ruthlessly despised by conservatives and the fiscally responsible of all other reaches, including yours truly. It's appalling to me and other fiscal conservatives that he has so quickly earned the right to represent the Right in the upcoming Senatorial race. In fact, his actions in continuously straddling the "moderate" line in his admittedly extremely diverse district have spurred some to call him a coward.
However, with cap-and-tax appearing to be a dead-on-arrival issue in the Senate, it seems that this too shall pass for Kirk. Barring that bill's revival and subsequent economically destructive passage with his backing, I can't particularly see much of a way that Kirk doesn't come away with the Senate seat. Giannoulias doesn't have the experience, Madigan is out, and unless Kennedy puts twice as much money out there to buy what is already a tainted Democratic seat, it's going to be really tough for him to outmatch Kirk, and he certainly won't be winning any conservative votes.
Pre-Cap-and-Tax was a time when I would have backed Kirk wholeheartedly. He talked the talk on fiscal conservatism, and at a deeper level than most. He's lost my confidence for now, but he's got some time over the next year or so to once again start walking the walk. Whether he does or not is up to him, but from where I sit, he's our next US Senator in any case. Given his tendency to follow the polling (backup in the "coward" link) I figure it's probably best to start hoping to have some effect at that level sooner rather than later.