A series of verbal gaffes by U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk have left top Illinois Republicans privately fretting over his re-election bid, but they also concede there’s little chance he’ll be pressured into leaving next year’s ticket.
“Not going to happen,” said one prominent Republican close to Gov. Bruce Rauner, a major Kirk ally.
Several factors contribute to the Kirk-or-bust GOP outlook: He’s got the support of Rauner and the Washington GOP establishment. The first-term senator has no intention of leaving. And it’s too late to recruit and fund a major candidate to keep a seat that’s viewed as essential for Republicans to retain their Senate majority in 2016.
Kirk’s camp found itself on the defensive Wednesday, a day after veteran Republican fundraiser and businessman Ron Gidwitz initially called for Kirk to step down because he was hurting the party’s prospects. Gidwitz quickly recanted and endorsed Kirk, but the damage had been done.
Pat Brady, the former Illinois Republican Party chairman, said the party needs to “rally around” Kirk.
“He’s been a great senator,” Brady said. “He’s been a leader on national security issues. He’s really tried to be bipartisan, which, in Illinois, is important. He’s been good on the environment. He was way out front on the marriage equality issue, so he fits the state perfectly, and he’s a great candidate for us.”
Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner and Tim Schneider, current chairman of the Illinois Republican Party, also expressed support for Kirk’s re-election bid in statements late Tuesday.
Kirk has received widespread financial support, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, has been working to get him re-elected.
[Former Gov. Jim Edgar] said he not only believes Kirk can ride out the recent rough waters, but that he may be in the best position to keep the seat in Republican hands in 2016. Edgar notes that 2016 will be an especially challenging year for any Republican, given that it’s a presidential year. Illinois is still a blue state and Democratic turnout is expected to be high.
What’s crucial to Kirk’s survival is receiving Rauner’s unwavering support, those in the party say. In winning back the governor’s mansion last year, Rauner united what was a fractured and cash-strapped Republican party. So far, the deep-pocketed Rauner has pledged Kirk his support.
He held an event for Kirk in March and is expected to appear with the senator this summer in Springfield during the state fair.
“Without the governorship, Republicans aren’t really a cohesive party,” Edgar said. “The governor is the 800-pound gorilla.”
While the GOP’s hard line on Planned Parenthood is hardly surprising, it comes as some party strategists have advised members to tread lightly on social issues so as to not turn off young and female voters, especially in purple and blue states.
One Republican apparently taking that advice to heart is Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois, who told The Hill this week he doesn’t plan to “cut access to basic health care and contraception for women, the majority of whom have no other resources.”
For their part, Planned Parenthood officials are pushing back vigorously against what they’ve characterized as a right-wing smear campaign.
“These extremists created a fake business, made apparently misleading corporate filings and then used false government identifications to gain access to Planned Parenthood’s medical and research staff with the agenda of secretly filming without consent — then heavily edited the footage to make false and absurd assertions about our standards and services,” Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, wrote in a Washington Post op-ed.