WASHINGTON (AP) -- Rep. Mark Kirk said Monday he expects to make an announcement about a run for statewide office soon - hours after the chairman of the Illinois Republican Party said he would stand down from a potential bid if Kirk runs for the Senate.
The announcement from party chairman Andrew McKenna greatly reduces the chances of a Republican primary battle. The GOP is hoping to launch a strong challenge for the Senate seat currently held by Democratic Sen. Roland Burris, who announced on Friday he would not run for a full-term.
"As party chairman my goal has been to build party unity," he said. "Mark Kirk and I met last evening as part of an ongoing discussion about the U. S. Senate race. I reassured Mark that if he chooses to be a candidate, I will not oppose him."
National Republicans have long seen Kirk as their best recruit for a Senate seat once held by President Barack Obama. Kirk, though, has been slow to make a decision, saying several times that an announcement is eminent but failing to make a concrete statement.
That didn't change on Monday.
"I appreciate Andy McKenna's willingness to consider being a candidate for the U.S. Senate," Kirk said in a statement. "Andy and I share the common goal of ensuring Illinois has a Republican leader in the U.S. Senate.
"I will make an announcement about seeking statewide office soon." He didn't elaborate.
Democrats have dealt with their own recruiting merri-go-round in the race.
Burris, who has never recovered from the taint surrounding his appointment by disgraced former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, said on Friday he will not run for a full-term. Blagojevich faces multiple corruption charges for trying to sell a Senate seat to the highest bidder.
The former Illinois governor denies any wrongdoing, and Burris says he didn't do anything improper to get his appointment to the Senate.
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan had been wooed by officials at the White House, among others, but decided last week she would not for Senate and instead would seek re-election. Her decision virtually insures a competitive primary for Democrats.
First-term state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias and Christopher Kennedy, a Chicago businessman and son of the late Robert F. Kennedy, and Chicago Urban League president Cheryle Jackson, are among those mulling bids.
"As Party Chairman my goal has been to build Party unity. Mark Kirk and I met last evening as part of an ongoing discussion about the U. S. Senate race. I reassured Mark that if he chooses to be a candidate, I will not oppose him."