Watching the Illinois primaries last night, it struck me that there are four numbers that will dictate the shape of Congressman Mark Kirk’s coming campaign for U.S. Senate:
1) $71,663: Median Household Income in Kirk’s District
Rep. Mark Kirk currently represents Illinois’ 10th District, which ranks in the top ten or fifteen percent of the country’s richest districts. A friend who lived in the area tells me that, in high school, he would go into IL-10 to play in chess tournaments. What was astounding, he said, was that the public schools there had oak paneling on the walls.
Much to the chagrin of national conservative purists, the positions that Kirk has taken as a member of Congress largely mirror the interests of his constituents. For example, Kirk has been widely criticized by conservatives for supporting cap and trade. But his views on this topic may be explained simply by the affluence of his constituents – they’re wealthy enough that the perceived benefits in a standard of living boost outweigh the costs of cap and trade regulations.
But Mark Kirk is no longer running in the northern Chicago suburbs. He’s going to have a build a coalition, which includes down-state, blue collar independents.
2) 60 Million Tons: Amount of Coal Produced in Illinois
Downstate mine workers and blue collar workers like them represent a major swing bloc in Illinois. From a strategic point of view, Kirk backtracked on his views on cap and trade not only to protect his right flank during the primary, but also for longer-term outreach to coal workers in southern Illinois.
See this speech in September in which Kirk said:
Let me say briefly about cap and trade. I voted for it because it was in the narrow interest of my Congressional district. But as your representative… representing the entire state of Illinois, I would vote no on that bill coming up.
The real reason for the flip-flop? It’s much easier to get elected state-wide in Illinois if you’re not behind cap and trade. Coal miners don’t like it when you take their jobs away.
Update: On the coal counties of southern Illinois, Politico national politics editor Charlie Mahtesian writes today:
While Kirk’s margins were much weaker Downstate—not that surprising since he’s a North Shore congressman—he got pummeled in most of the main coal-producing counties. He lost five of the state’s 11 leading coal counties to Don Lowery, a southern Illinois-based candidate who raised only $20,000 and got almost no traction in the rest of the state. In those 11 counties, Kirk ran an average of 20 points below his statewide performance and he averaged 34 percent to 31 percent for Lowery. Lowery killed him in the top coal county in the state—Saline County—63 percent to 16 percent. Yeah, Lowery once worked in Saline County and announced his candidacy in another nearby coal county where he also trounced Kirk. But the bottom line here is that Kirk’s cap and trade vote mattered. Lowery had a section dedicated to the issue and to Kirk’s position on his website. Not good news for Coal Belt Dems such as Reps. Space, Boucher, Rahall, Mollohan, et al.
3) 32,861: Number of Republicans in Chicago Who Voted in the Primary
The Chicago Board of Election Commissioners reports only 32,861 Chicago Republicans voted in the primary that ultimately selected Mark Kirk as the GOP’s senatorial candidate. More than ten times that number voted in the Democratic primary. With a ten to one ratio of registered voters, the Democrats pretty much have Chicago locked up.
With that, Kirk has to look to independent voters in the suburbs as the swing bloc that will carry him to victory.
“Illinois is next!” cried Kirk as he met with Sen. John McCain and Senator-elect Scott Brown during the Massachusetts Senator’s first appearance on the Hill. If Illinois is to be next, Kirk will have to make use of his cosmopolitan appeal to take advantage of the independent, suburban energy that swept Brown to his electoral upset in Massachusetts.
4) $1 million in Loans, $500k in Bounced Checks: Dem Giannoulias’ ties to Rezko
The AP called the Democratic Primary for Alexi Giannoulias, a candidate that Kirk is no doubt gleeful to be running against.
It’s just so easy to point out the negatives – in the days leading up to the polls, Giannoulias was blasted for his ties to convicted felon Tony Rezko, known for fraud, money-laundering, and associations with the corrupt Gov. Blagojevich’s tenure.
While Giannoulias was the chief loan officer for his family’s bank – the Broadway Bank – they gave Rezko $1 million in loans and allowed him to bounce $500,000 in checks.
Three years ago, Giannoulias came out of nowhere to become Illinois State Treasurer at the age of 31. His victory shocked political insiders, and few doubt that his sudden rise to political success was due to an endorsement by then-Senator Barack Obama.
Could a close association with Obama be a hindrance in the president’s home state? Possibly – his approval rating in Illinois has fallen, much like in the rest of the country. An August poll put Obama at only 59% approval, and that was before five months of a still-grumbling economy, and the collapse of healthcare legislation.
As such, if Kirk chooses to take this path, an anti-Obama message could connect him to the independents that he needs to pull off a victory à la Scott Brown.