Wednesday, July 22, 2009

How much will RINO label taint Kirk?

When I think about the chances of Rep. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., to move up on the Capitol Hill scene from a Congressman from the North Shore to a senator from Illinois, I can’t help but remember the U.S. Senate race from Illinois that took place in 1996.

That was the campaign where Paul Simon decided to retire instead of seeking term number three in the Senate. It was the election cycle that turned Richard Durbin as a statewide official, rather than being just the Congressman from Springfield, and set him on the path to his current place as one of the highest-ranking Democrats on Capitol Hill.

MY PROBLEM IS that I haven’t quite figured out the parallels between Kirk’s bid for the Republican nomination for Senate in 2010 and that campaign from 13 years ago.

Is Kirk the equivalent of Dick Durbin? Or is his true parallel the Bob Kustra role?

On a certain level, Kirk and his followers would like to think he is Durbin. An experienced member of the House of Representatives with strong regional support moves up to become a statewide figure.

That is the niche Kirk would love to have. He’d be, without a doubt, the highest-ranking Republican in Illinois if he were to win the primary and general elections to be held next year.

BUT I’M SURE there are Kirk followers who also will be mortified when they read this commentary that compares him on any level to Durbin.

Because there are those political watchers who think that Kirk and Durbin already have too much in common, and that is why they would be vehemently opposed to having Kirk get the GOP nomination next year.

We’re talking, of course, about those people who like to use the label RINO. Republican In Name Only.

They’re the ones who want to think of a social conservative agenda as the mainstream of thought in U.S. society and are the ones who think that compromise on political issues is a sign of weakness.

AFTER ALL, THEY pick people to stand up for core principles on certain issues.

The last thing they want is someone who is inclined to side with Democrats on certain issues.

That is Kirk, when it comes to those “hot button” questions such as abortion and gun control. Kirk lives in the Chicago suburbs. In fact, he lives in the ritzy Chicago suburbs of the North Shore. Who else would kick off his campaign in Kenilworth – one of the wealthiest in the nation?

There are those conservatives who like to think they represent the “common man” who view Kirk as some sort of elitist rich guy who can’t possibly identify with them. When combined with his moderate-to-liberal beliefs on many social issues, Kirk as a U.S. senator is the kind of guy who repulses them.

THAT IS GOING to be his biggest problem in the coming months. A North Shore guy is going to have to show he can relate to the common man. It will be interesting to see how far he takes the act without coming across as too phony.

I’m inclined to think that many conservatives will reject the idea of Kirk, and that his best chance of getting the nomination is if there are a slew of right-wing opponents to take each other down for Kirk.

I know from firsthand experience how the conservatives of the Republican Party are determined to get one who is ideologically their ideal, and would rather lose an election here and there rather than settle for someone who bears their party label but not their ideals.

That is why I think of Kustra.

THE THEN-ILLINOIS lieutenant governor was supposed to be the replacement for Paul Simon.

The party establishment had it all figured out about how he would get the nomination, then use their party strength (this was back in the days when the GOP was still relevant in Illinois) to win the general election.

Kustra was supposed to be the guy who killed Dick Durbin’s national political aspirations before they began.

The only problem is that Kustra got beat in the primary by Al Salvi, a state legislator from Wauconda who had enough personal wealth that he could afford to pay for a primary campaign – thereby overcoming Kustra’s fundraising advantages.

SALVI GAVE THE right the talk they wanted to hear, and that encouraged the conservatives who never trusted Gov. Jim Edgar (because he, too, is so liberal by their standards) to take it out on Kustra. His political ambitions were over (the last I heard, he was a college president in either Kentucky or Idaho).

Is that the fate Kirk is bound to face? He’s going to lose before he can even get a chance at running against Alexi Giannoulias or whichever Democrat winds up getting that party’s nomination for the Senate seat.

It could happen, because the ideological set of the Republican Party is that determined to get “one of their own” as a Senator. Heck, I still remember what happened to Salvi.

After losing in ’96, he tried running again in 1998 for Illinois secretary of state. In his attempt to moderate his rhetoric, he toned down the tough talk on social issues that he spewed two years earlier.

BUT THAT CAUSED the conservatives to turn on him to the point where many didn’t mind in the least that Democrat Jesse White wound up winning that election – and still holds the same office to this day.

So is he Durbin, or is he Kustra? We’ll have to wait and see.


1 comment:

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