Republican Congressman Mark Kirk is a winner. Since the year 2000, the voters of Illinois' 10th Congressional District have been sending him to Washington DC despite the fact that the 10th is moderately Democratic. Representing some of the wealthiest suburbs north of Chicago, it voted for Gore over Bush 51-47 in 2000, for Kerry over Bush 52-47 in 2004 and for Obama over McCain by a staggering 61-38 in 2008.
The Illinois Republican Party has fallen on hard times. When I moved to Chicago in 1995, the GOP controlled the Governor's and Attorney General's offices as well as both houses of the state legislature and a majority of Illinois' Congressional seats. Today, that's all gone. But Mark Kirk has survived.
Next year, there will be an open seat race for the Senate seat held until this year by Barack Obama. This contest should represent a golden opportunity for the GOP to stage a comeback in the Land of Lincoln. Illinois Democrats have been rocked this year by the impeachment of Governor Rod Blagojevich. Attorney General Lisa Madigan, Illinois' most popular elected official, has announced that she will run for a third term rather than enter the Senate or Gubernatorial contests. Finally, continued weakness in the economy has caused the Obama Administration's popularity to sag a bit in the rust belt.
So the Republican Party should have been jumping for joy this past Wednesday when Mark Kirk signaled to National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn that he would run for Senator. Unfortunately for Kirk, his meeting with his party's top muckety-mucks didn't go too well. In fact, he was forced to immediately turn around and announce that he wouldn't run for Senate after all.
Why? According to the Washington Post, "Kirk's decision...followed a meeting of the Illinois Republican congressional delegation on Thursday in which his colleagues refused to back Kirk in a primary against Illinois Republican Party Chairman Andy McKenna due, in large part, to his vote in favor of President Barack Obama's climate change bill."
In other words, given the opportunity to run a candidate who is popular, successful and a titan of fundraising, Republican overlords have decided that they'd rather back a candidate who is a total unknown and who has no experience in running for office, but who is ideologically pure enough to suit them.
You can read a couple of good commentaries on this story here and here. American statesman Henry Clay used to say, "I'd rather be right than President." His spirit lives on in today's Republican Party.
Update 7/25/09: McKenna has stepped aside, so Kirk is back in the race. Kirk has quite a mountain to climb. He has to convince GOP big-wigs to get over their reluctance to back him. He has to convince rural down-state Republicans that he's not a Republican-in-name-only from Chicago. And he has to win in a blue state against a Democrat who has already won statewide election and who undoubtedly will receive support from President Obama. I wish Kirk no luck.