Last week came word, not surprisingly, that the appointed incumbent (and Blagojevic stained) Democrat Roland Burris would not seek to retain the seat. While claiming that the cost of mounting a race would be too prohibitive, his demurral certainly also has to do with the fact that he has virtually no support among Democratic higher ups in the state, including senior Senator Richard Durbin.
Also last week came the announcement that the Democrats' top hope for the seat, Attorney General Lisa Madigan, was also saying no. While Madigan was being courted by the White House to enter the race, she was also mulling a run for Governor. In the end, she decided to seek re-election as AG. While the Senate race seemed hers to lose, perhaps fear of a Republican rebound has led her to keep her powder dry for the time being. Only 42 years old, she has many campaigns in her future.
Another potential Dem is Christopher Kennedy, son of RFK, and head of the longtime Kennedy holding, Chicago Merchandise Mart. He's also reportedly on the fence.
Fourth on our roster of potential Senators is 5th term Republican House member Mark Kirk. Over the last few days Kirk has gone back and forth, sending out signals that he was out as well as in. Key to his deliberations, apparently, is a desire to avoid a costly and divisive primary. As of today, thanks to Illinois GOP head Andy McKenna's decision not to mount his own campaign, Kirk is in.
Kirk is perhaps the most interesting of these candidates. For the GOP to make a Senate pick-up in Illinois, a moderate would seem to be a requirement. Kirk certainly fits this bill. He represents the upscale 10th district, comprising the north and northwest Chicago suburbs. In last year's presidential race, Barack Obama received 61% of the vote in the 10th. In 2004, John Kerry won the district with 52%. Despite the recent Democratic wave, Kirk managed to hold his seat with 53%. The newly published Politics in America 2010 describes the district thusly:
Suburban white-collar workers and the more working-class residents of Waukegan combine to make the 10th fiscally conservative but socially liberal, especially on abortion rights and gun control. Its proximity to Lake Michigan makes environmental issues important here. While area residents have sent a Republican to the U.S. House for decades, the area generally supports Democratic presidential candidates...
Kirk is among the most left-leaning Republicans in the GOP caucus. He's managed to parlay his moderate positions into a reliable base of support back home, allowing him to withstand the strong Democratic winds of the past few cycles. He would seem to possess the necessary ability to siphon off the votes of Democratic leaning independents in the Chicago suburbs. While these voters have been moving increasingly leftward in recent years, Kirk may be able to bring them back (perhaps only temorarily) with a message of fiscal responsibility. Should the benefits of the recently passed stimulus package remain elusive, coupled with high unemployment, Kirk may have a solid economic platform on which to mount his campaign.
There is one announced Democrat in the race, State Treasurer Alex Giannoulias. Another potential Dem entrant is 9th District House member Jan Schakowsky, whose district border's Kirk's, and who would be the most liberal candidate in the race. She has strong progressive bona fides, is part of the House Democratic leadership, and would bring fundraising potential to the campaign.
Keep an eye on Illinois as things become more straightened out over the coming weeks.