Know your ballot: U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth challenges Sen. Mark Kirk


Nancy Stone/Chicago Tribune/TNS

Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill) and Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill) attend a debate last week. Duckworth is gunning for Kirk’s senate seat, which he has held since 2010.

Sam Krevlin, Reporter

For over a year and a half U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) and Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) have campaigned throughout Illinois, making their case to voters for the U.S. Senate seat. Despite holding different views on social issues and foreign policy, they have both campaigned on a military background and a pledge to work across party lines.

Kirk has been a senator since 2010 and was previously a U.S. representative for Illinois’ 10th district from 2001 to 2010. Duckworth was the director of the Illinois Department of Veteran Affairs from 2006 to 2008 before being elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2012 for the state’s 8th district.

Republicans currently hold a majority in the Senate, but more than twice as many Republican seats are up for election, including Kirk’s. According to FiveThirtyEight, Democrats have a 71 percent chance of controlling the Senate after November’s election, with Kirk’s seat being one of the most vulnerable.

Working across party lines

After suffering a stroke in 2012, Kirk said during the Chicago Tribune editorial board debate on Oct. 3 that he spent weeks looking out the window of the rehabilitation Institute of Chicago thinking about his role as a senator. Kirk said one of his most important goals is creating a close relationship with Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), his counterpart in the Senate.

“I have sought to be the glue in the Senate to make sure things happen,” Kirk said during the debate. “I am asked to go back to the United States Senate to be the bipartisan type of guy. …To always put Illinois ahead of party.”

For months Kirk has been trying to back up this claim. He has been outspoken against Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, calling him “unfit” to be president. While almost all Senate Republicans were outspoken about blocking Judge Merrick Garland from a hearing, Kirk was the first Republican senator to meet with the judge.

Weinberg freshman Dominic Bayer, who has volunteered for Kirk and is a member of College Republicans, said he appreciates that Kirk tries to work across the aisle.

“He has made his whole time in the Senate about working to get things done,” Weinberg freshman Dominic Bayer, who has volunteered for Kirk and is a member of College Republicans. “If it includes working with the Democrats, he does that.”

Duckworth too has stressed her ability to challenge her own party. She criticized Hillary Clinton for her vote in favor of the Iraq War and her infamous personal email server. She called for Clinton to turn over her undisclosed emails and said her handling of the situation was “absolutely poor.”

She has also been skeptical of President Barack Obama’s foreign policy in Syria and rejected his plans to arm and train Syrian rebels in the region. Obama in 2014 attempted to provide $500 million in funding to arming and training “moderate rebels” in Syria. Duckworth said she was not in favor of supplying rebels with American-made weapons and bullets nor does she approve of sending American troops into the region without a plan.

“I am going to vote on the issues,” Duckworth said at the Tribune debate. “It is why I have stood up to President Obama when he wanted to arm Syrian rebels who had attuned $500 million dollars, and Hillary Clinton voted for that; Senator Kirk voted for that. I thought it was a foolish thing to do.”

Army vs. Navy

On the last mission of the day on Nov. 12, 2004, Duckworth’s Black Hawk helicopter was hit with a rocket-propelled grenade in Iraq. Duckworth said in last Thursday’s debate that veterans have been her life’s work since losing both her legs in the incident.

Duckworth has used her military background to promote domestic issues such as affordable college tuition. Duckworth said she sees education as a foundation for national security.

“When we talk about national strength and our role as a global leader, nobody talks about education as part of that foundation,” Duckworth said at an October roundtable discussion with Illinois teachers and students in Chicago. “If we don’t have affordable college education, we aren’t going to get the pilots to fly those aircrafts. … We aren’t going to get engineers who are going to be developing the next generation of fighter jets.”

Kirk, who served 23 years in the Navy, criticized this type of spending and said we have a “call to protect the people of the United States from the fate that befell to the people of Puerto Rico and Greece.” He said congressmen must know how to balance a budget.

However, Kirk has been willing to spend money on maintaining America’s military presence abroad. Kirk called for a safe haven for Syrian refugees in Jordan, with U.S. troops guarding the zone. Duckworth criticized the plan, saying that would mean supporting ground troops in the region and said the logistics of his plan weren’t feasible.  

“What you are seeing is a big difference between Army philosophy and Navy philosophy,” Kirk said on the logistics of providing a safe haven.

Duckworth has called for an increase in Syrian refugees in the United States.

“We are not a nation that turns our back on children drowning in the Mediterranean,” she said at last week’s debate. “We are not a nation that turns our back on families fleeing butchers.”

Since Thursday, Kirk has faced backlash over remarks on Duckworth’s family military history and heritage. Duckworth said her family has fought for American since the revolution.

Kirk responded by saying, “I had forgotten that your parents came all the way from Thailand to serve George Washington.”

The Human Rights Campaign, a civil rights organization working toward LGBTQ equality, revoked their endorsement of him in response.

Duckworth and Kirk will meet for their final debate on Friday.

Correction: A previous version of this story included a header indicating that U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth was in the U.S. Air Force. She was a helicopter pilot in the U.S. Army. The Daily regrets the error. 

 Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @samkrevlin