Duckworth claims victory over Kirk in Illinois Senate race



Tammy Duckworth answers a question from the Chicago Tribune editorial board during a joint appearance with Mark Kirk on Oct. 3, 2016 at Tribune Tower in Chicago. (Nancy Stone/ Chicago Tribune/TNS)

By Rick Pearson | Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO — U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth captured a U.S. Senate seat on Tuesday, capping a rapid rise from injured Iraq War hero to member of the world’s most exclusive club.

Riding a compelling personal story of perseverance and a slew of political advantages, the two-term Democratic congresswoman defeated Sen. Mark Kirk, a Republican seeking a second full term.

“We showed (that) a campaign that respects the voters and is focused on practical solutions rather than shopworn slogans can actually be successful,” Duckworth told supporters at a downtown Chicago hotel ballroom. “We showed that a relentless focus on rebuilding Illinois’ middle class and respecting hard work rather than wealth can be successful too.”


Kirk gave his concession speech at 8:16 p.m. before much of the vote had even been counted statewide but shortly after The Associated Press called the race for Duckworth. Early returns showed Duckworth with 63 percent to 33 percent for Kirk, with about 31 percent of precincts reporting.

“I have just called Sen.-elect Tammy Duckworth to congratulate her on a well-fought race,” Kirk told a mostly younger crowd of volunteers milling in and out of a conference room at a Northbrook hotel. “I told Tammy that I would do everything possible to make sure that Illinois has the strongest possible representation in the U.S. Senate.”

Kirk said he invited Duckworth for a post-election beer at the Billy Goat Tavern, similar to what he did in 2010 after winning the Senate seat.

“This coming beer summit will show kids across Illinois that opponents can peacefully bury the hatchet after a tough election and that what unites us as Americans is much stronger than what divides us,” he said.

Kirk had widely been viewed as the most vulnerable Republican in the nation to seek re-election this year. Democrats, hoping to retake a majority in the chamber had viewed a Duckworth victory as critical to their national efforts. The win means Democrats reclaimed the Senate seat that once belonged to President Barack Obama.

Voters got to weigh in following a campaign the two candidates at times seemed determined to make a referendum on who would better serve veterans’ causes instead of who could better handle a U.S. senator’s broad scope of duties. Duckworth served in the Iraq War and Kirk is a retired Naval Reservist.

During the Senate campaign, Kirk attacked Duckworth over her stewardship of the state veterans’ agency. Duckworth responded by attacking Kirk’s dedication to veterans’ issues and alleged he sided with “Wall Street” interests instead of “Main Street” causes, such as allowing students to refinance college loans. She also pushed for free community college, something Kirk labeled a “give away.”

The political backdrop favored Duckworth. Democrats turn out in greater numbers in Illinois during presidential years. The polarizing Donald Trump was atop the Republican ticket. And Kirk made a series of controversial statements that gained national attention.

Duckworth was easily able to raise more campaign cash than Kirk and out-flank the Republican senator for more than a year. Even the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee pulled some of its late advertising that had been scheduled to assist Duckworth, sensing that victory was at hand.

Kirk spent much of what he raised on early TV attack ads as he attempted to negatively define his challenger in voters’ minds. But he was unable to gain outside financial assistance of national Republican-backed super political action committees and independent expenditure groups, as they opted to look elsewhere to try to save Republican control of the Senate. That largely left Kirk on his own, with limited resources, to promote a message that he’s moderate and a political independent.

The Chicago Tribune’s John Chase and Jeff Coen contributed to this report.


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