Calculating Kirk delays decision as Democrats sort out primary

With their first major recruit in the bag in Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (R), national Republicans are now patiently awaiting word from Illinois Rep. 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).

Very patiently.

Kirk said he would announce his plans by the end of April, then was rumored to be announcing them at any moment. Now it’s clear the centrist from the northern Chicago is going to make them all wait longer.

Despite some pretty strong signals that he was ready to run for Senate in 2010, Kirk has remained remarkably quiet about it for the past few weeks. Some on the Democratic side have cast it as a signal that he’s less likely to take the plunge, but Illinois Republicans say it’s just Kirk’s deliberative nature, and that they never thought it was a done deal to begin with.
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Whatever the case, Kirk’s outstanding decision remains one of the biggest puzzle pieces on the Senate map for 2010.

One GOP operative in the area labeled Kirk “highly risk-averse,” while another said he is “very cautious.”

“Probably to a fault, he over-calculates everything he does,” the latter operative said.

That GOP operative estimated the likelihood of Kirk running at 60 percent, while others pegged it closer to 50-50.

It seems a far cry from the talk of late April, when the Chicago Sun-Times briefly reported that Kirk was “poised” to enter the race. The paper quickly backed off that assertion.

Kirk’s office attributes his lack of a decision to the fluctuations on the Democratic side of the Senate race. While state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias (D) appeared the front-runner early on, there have been signs of late that the establishment isn’t as on-board as it once was, and may look elsewhere.

Giannoulias has been under fire in recent weeks for his management of a college savings program that lost $85 million while purchasing a $26,000 sport utility vehicle.

Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinThreat of impeachment takes oxygen out of 2019 agenda Senate Democrats request watchdog, Red Cross probe DHS detention facilities Iraq War looms over Trump battle with Iran MORE (D-Ill.) has been seen as Giannoulias’s biggest cheerleader since the two went on a February trip to Greece together, but a Durbin spokesman told The Hill this week that too much was made of the excursion.

And now state Attorney General Lisa Madigan is saying that the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) has reached out to her in hopes that she’ll run for Senate instead of governor, the latter of which remains the most likely option.

“The candidate landscape for statewide office in Illinois is changing daily,” Kirk spokesman Eric Elk said. “The congressman is watching closely and will make a decision about a statewide run at a later date.”

Madigan isn’t the only other Democrat who could jumble the primary. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) has said she will make a decision next month, and businessman Chris Kennedy, the son of former Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, is also weighing a bid.

And then there’s appointed Sen. Roland Burris (D-Ill.), who is only now turning his thoughts toward the election.

Sources say Kirk was confident in his ability to beat Giannoulias, but that he has been forced to step back and re-evaluate his options.

A GOP-funded poll released Tuesday should help matters. It showed Kirk virtually tied with both Giannoulias and Kennedy.

A late April survey from Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling, though, shows Madigan leading Kirk 49-33. Madigan seems unlikely to run for Senate, but the prospect of her running could be enough to frighten Kirk.

For now, he can afford to wait.

“He’s got the rare luxury of some time,” said Dave Venturi, the chairman of the GOP in Lake County, which makes up much of Kirk’s district. “It isn’t like there’s 20 other superstars throwing their hat in.”

That fact is also what makes Kirk’s decision so important, though. There aren’t any real alternatives for Republicans in Illinois at this point.

Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) has all but ruled out a run, telling a local radio station Monday that he is “increasingly less likely” to enter the race. And the state Illinois Republican Party has been unable to put up much of a fight in statewide contests for years.

{mospagebreak}Kirk has become something of a savior-in-waiting for a state and national party hoping to make a dent in the state — especially in the aftermath of scandal-ridden Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who was removed from office.

Kent Redfield, a professor at the University of Illinois at Springfield, said Kirk has “a pretty good profile for the type of Republicans that get elected statewide here.” Redfield noted that a messy Democratic primary could actually make the race more attractive, and also that Kirk isn’t able to fall back on an easy reelection to the House.

“I still think he probably will run for Senate, because he’d have another tough race in his district,” Redfield said.
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Already, three big-name Democrats have set their sights on Kirk’s House seat in 2010. But Kirk has also shown tremendous resilience, winning 53 percent of the vote in 2008, even as President Obama carried his district with 61 percent.

Antonietta Simonian, the executive director of the Lake County Republican Federation, said Kirk has been under lots of pressure to stay in the 10th congressional district, and that it might have played a role in prolonging his decision.

“I think it’s definitely made him think; I know we were successful in doing that,” Simonian said. “He probably would have made an announcement already if he didn’t have so many people calling him.”