Former Kerry adviser jumps in race to unseat Rep. Kirk

Jay Footlik, a former aide to President Clinton and senior adviser to Sen. John Kerry’s (D-Mass.) failed 2004 presidential bid, has jumped into the race to unseat Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.).

Footlik, however, is a rookie as a candidate, and he can expect a primary challenge from Dan Seals, who mounted a surprisingly strong race against Kirk in 2006.

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Seals, who lost to Kirk 53 percent to 46 percent despite raising about $2 million without Washington help, told The Hill this
week he will more than likely run again, but he is not yet ready to make a formal announcement.

“I’d be surprised if you don’t see me on the ballot,” Seals said.

Both Footlik and Seals said they have been in touch with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC). Footlik said he has been keeping them apprised of his plans.

Seals said DCCC officials were impressed with his performance last cycle, and although they didn’t pony up cash in 2006, he said he thinks they will rush to his aid when he gets in this time.

“I would expect national support this time,” Seals said. “Did we earn their respect and attention with our last performance? Absolutely.”

Seals added that he has been in touch with DCCC Chairman Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), who has had “positive” things to say about another run.

“But when you look at what we did, how can you not?” he said.

Seals said he filed to run again immediately after the last election and has maintained his relationships with his volunteers and fundraisers. He finished the first quarter this year with about $37,000 cash on hand.

“I hardly have shrunk away,” he said. “We’re bigger, we’re stronger, we’re faster.”

Footlik has been reaching out to old friends as well. The challenger said he spoke with Kerry, and the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee offered him advice beginning with “first and foremost, he said, focus on fundraising.”

“He gave me some good advice,” Footlik said. “He just reminded me to remember why [I’m] doing this.”

A Kerry aide confirmed the conversation took place but could not comment on whether the senator will endorse Footlik or write him a check.

“I’d be happy to take it,” Footlik said of potential Kerry fundraising help. “I’ve never had to fundraise before. This is not easy at all.”

Both men and the DCCC see Kirk as vulnerable, and the early volleys launched at Kirk contain similar themes employed in last year’s huge Democratic gains.

“Since coming to Washington, Mark Kirk has been a rubber stamp for the Bush administration, voting with Bush every four out of five times, and supporting Bush’s failed ‘stay the course’ agenda in Iraq,” DCCC spokesman Ryan Rudominer said.
“But now, after a poor election performance in 2006, Kirk’s running scared. … Kirk can’t flip-flop his way out of the anti-Republican/Bush wave in the district. The voters see through Kirk’s political calculations and will penalize him for lacking the courage of his convictions in 2008.”

Footlik sounded a similar theme, but added that he thinks Kirk will not go out without a fight.

“He knows he had a near-death experience, and you know he’s going to try to fight and hang on,” Footlik said.

Kirk issued a boilerplate response, detailing what he says is his commitment to his constituents, when asked for his thoughts on his challengers.

“My top priority continues to be serving the families of the 10th congressional district,” Kirk said. “From closing airport security breaches to killing pensions for congressional felons, I have a lot of work ahead for the people of the 10th district. I’m grateful for the opportunity to serve and look forward to making our communities safer.”

The congressman’s reelection campaign finished the first quarter with about $626,000 cash on hand.