Durbin endorses Duckworth's Senate bid

Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinIraq War looms over Trump battle with Iran Muslim lawmakers host Ramadan iftar to break fast at Capitol Let's stop treating student borrowers like second-class citizens MORE (D-Ill.) is endorsing Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) for Senate, boosting her campaign to unseat Sen. Mark KirkMark Steven KirkEx-GOP Sen. Kirk registers to lobby The global reality behind 'local' problems Dems vow swift action on gun reform next year MORE (R-Ill.), one of Democrats' top 2016 targets.

The Senate’s minority whip announced his support in a fundraising email for Duckworth’s campaign on Thursday, lauding her “determination” and advocacy for veterans.

“Tammy is no stranger to tough challenges, but to win this race, she is going to need our full support. Join me in backing Tammy’s campaign for U.S. Senate by contributing today,” he said.

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“Illinois families deserve a champion like Tammy Duckworth fighting for them in the U.S. Senate.”

In 2014, Kirk campaign for Republican Senate candidate Jim Oberweis, who lost to Durbin in the general election. Kirk's support for Oberweis came after he said he would not to campaign against Durbin, citing their close relationship.

Durbin's decision to wade into the race could also have an impact on the Democratic field, currently made up of Duckworth and former Chicago Urban League President Andrea Zopp. There have been rumblings of more challenges, including from state lawmakers and Rep. Robin Kelly (D-Ill.). But an endorsement from the Senate's No. 2 Democrat could freeze that field.

Kirk faces a tough fight to keep his seat. A centrist Republican, he won in the blue state in the Republican wave of 2010. But his reelection bid in a presidential year will likely be one of the most competitive races of the upcoming cycle.

Kirk launched his first ad of the cycle in May, a $320,000 spot where he highlighted his recovery from a stroke in 2012. Kirk, like Duckworth, is a veteran of the Iraq War.

Kevin Artl, a Kirk campaign spokesman, panned Durbin for making an endorsement before the primary.

“Dick Durbin is once again choosing political party over Illinois," he said in a statement. "By hand-picking Senator Kirk's opponent, he abandons the bipartisan partnership that they have cultivated on behalf of Illinois."

Andrea Bozek, the communications director with the National Republican Senatorial Committee, questioned whether Duckworth "forced" the senator's hand.

“Senator Durbin is finally and reluctantly taking sides in the Illinois Democrat primary. Congresswoman Duckworth must be getting scared about her primary chances and forced Durbin’s endorsement," she said.

But Justin Barasky, the spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, hit at Kirk, noting his early advertising in the race.

"We agree with Senator Durbin that Mark Kirk’s decision to run TV ads this early in the election cycle is noteworthy. Clearly Mark Kirk is worried about his chances."

This story was updated at 4:58 p.m.