Illinois Republican Sen. Mark Kirk may have had a stroke two years ago, but he wants to make sure everyone knows that he plans to seek a second term in office.
"No frickin' way am I retiring," he told Roll Call
Thursday. "With all this rehab, for me just to walk was a huge effort. I had to relearn how to walk again after the stroke. And all the rehab and all the effort shows the mental determination times 10 to keep serving."
Kirk, 53, who will be a top target for Democrats in seeking to reclaim the Senate in 2016, suffered a ischemic stroke in January 2012. He returned to work
nearly a year to the day later, in January 2013, and now warns that attacks on his fitness to serve will not be taken well by his constituents.
Many of Kirk's staff, however, are heading to newly elected Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner's administration, and his chief of staff, Erik Elk, is entering the private sector, although Kirk says he'll remain involved in his re-election campaign.
Democrats are stirring the talk about his re-election campaign plans, Kirk said, because "it's the only way that Democrats can win in Illinois."
"For Democrats looking at a minority life and seeing that they cannot win in Illinois is so frustrating that they will just assume away any issue," he continued. "They’ll just say to willing reporters, 'I think Kirk is going to retire.'"
Kirk said he's already raised $2 million for his re-election bid, and needs to pull together the rest of a team to join Elk.
He plans to push his moderate record, which includes support for abortion rights and same-sex marriage, to attract left-leaning voters.
No Democrats have yet entered the race, but several names are being mentioned, including Rep. Tammy Duckworth, a veteran and double amputee. However, as she's pregnant, many watchers say she'll likely wait until Sen. Richard Durbin retires.
Illinois Reps. Cheri Bustos and Bill Foster, along with Attorney General Lisa Madigan, are also being mentioned, Roll Call reports.
Kirk held back on campaigning for Durbin's Republican opponent, Jim Oberweis, this year, and hopes Durbin will take the same approach with him.
"The analogy I gave to everybody back home is, think of a wagon being pulled by two horses," Kirk said. "The wagon’s called Illinois. The two horses, one horse is named Durbin, the other horse is named Kirk. If the two horses try nipping at each other, then the wagon’s not going to go very fast."
Kirk could face a primary challenge, however, from tea party conservative and former Rep. Joe Walsh, who Duckworth defeated in 2012.
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