The recorded message for Mark Kirk starts off talking about bringing real change and reform to Congress, followed by the tidbit that the Chicago Tribune has endorsed Barack Obama for President and Mark Kirk for Congress. After listing some feel-good positions of the Congressman representing Chicago's north and northwest suburbs, the call wraps up by calling Kirk an "independent" voice for Congress.
No mention of John McCain, or George W. Bush, or the Republican Party, which Kirk has been a member of since joining the House Representatives in 2000. Has the political environment become so bad for Republicans that a four-term Congressman like Kirk must hide his party affiliation and try to ride Obama's coattails to re-election?
Well, yes, it has. Kirk faces a tough rematch this year in a congressional district that has not elected a Democrat in 30 years. His Democratic challenger, Dan Seals, was a virtual unknown when he gained 47 percent of the vote to Kirk's 53 percent in 2006. Compare that to the 64 percent of the vote Kirk got in 2004 and whopping 69 percent in 2002, and it's easy to see that the tide has started to turn against GOP candidates in Illinois.
And Seals has a few additional advantages this time around. First, the DNC is backing his campaign with money and support far more than it did two years ago. Second, in the mostly upscale 10th District, the housing and financial crises are bigger motivators for change this year than the Iraq War was in 2006. And it doesn't hurt that Seals is a young, intelligent African-American whose policies and physical appearance will remind some voters of a certain Presidential candidate. In case the connection isn't already strong enough, Obama recorded a radio ad for Seals which started running October 31.
Recent polls have Seals running ahead of Kirk for the first time. A Daily Kos-commissioned poll showed Seals up by 6 points, 49-43 percent, on October 20-22. Earlier in the month, SurveyUSA had the race at 52 percent for Seals and 44 percent for Kirk. On the other hand, a Bennett, Petts, & Normington poll conducted for Progress Illinois October 15-16 found likely voters favored found Kirk up 47-41 percent. So public opinion is as volatile as the Dow Jones Index.
To be sure, Kirk hasn't been a rabid conservative. His biggest focus has been on cleaning up Lake Michigan. He led the (unsuccessful) fight to overturn Bush's stem-cell research ban. Although Seals likes to note that Bush called on Kirk to craft the Iraq War resolution, in recent years Kirk has voiced his concern about endless war to Bush. Kirk publicly and profusely apologized this summer after saying in a radio interview that "if we see Obama there's a shoot-on-sight order." As his last-ditch robocall demonstrates, he's no longer interested in distancing himself from Illinois' junior Senator.