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Possible 2016 rivals Kirk, Duckworth on opposite sides of Syria debate

Tammy Duckworth Yingluck Shinawatra

Tammy Duckworth, Yingluck Shinawatra

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Updated: October 2, 2013 6:43AM

WASHINGTON — Sen. Mark Kirk and Rep. Tammy Duckworth — the GOP and Democratic Illinois lawmakers with substantial military experience — have opposite views on the U.S. attacking Syria.

Kirk, who retired in May as a Naval Reserve intelligence officer, supports missile hits in the wake of evidence that the Syrian government used chemical weapons against civilians. Duckworth, a lieutenant colonel in the Illinois National Guard and a wounded Iraq War vet, has serious reservations over a strike.

Duckworth is traveling in Thailand — the nation where she was born. She raised her concerns about attacking Syria on Thursday while speaking to university students in Bangkok.

Their views are noteworthy as President Barack Obama is rallying support to punish Syria — all of which has led me to consider the not-so-farfetched notion that in 2016 they could face off in a Senate contest.

First, some news:

Kirk, who returned to the Senate last January following an absence of almost a year due to a massive stroke, is saying he is running for re-election in 2016 — a very early pronouncement. On Aug. 22, Kirk held a fund-raiser at a Chicago hotel pulling in, I am told, $300,000. The next day Kirk had a smaller funder at the Chicago Club in the Loop, hosted by Exelon president and CEO Christopher Crane.

Among the Aug. 22 event hosts were the who’s who of major Illinois GOP political donors: John Canning, Ron Gidwitz, Anne and Ken Griffin, Bruce Rauner, John Rowe and Muneer Satter.

Obviously it’s early for jockeying to start for 2016, especially with Illinois facing a giant governor’s race in 2014 and with Democrat Sen. Dick Durbin up for re-election — and so far facing nominal GOP challengers.

But if Kirk is starting to stockpile cash, then it may be time for Democrats to start thinking ahead.

Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) is a natural for the spot. He has a big Chicago base and high media profile. But I know Quigley and I think his friendship with Kirk (they have worked together on legislation) means he would have a hard time running against him.

I don’t see Attorney General Lisa Madigan — if she ever decides to take the plunge for another office with or without her father as state House speaker — having the patience to raise the $20 million or so it will take for a Senate race in Illinois under cumbersome federal rules. She won’t be able to use most of the money she has in her state war chest on a federal campaign. State Sen. Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago) may have flirted with a gubernatorial run in the past weeks to raise his profile for a future bid for higher office.

Kirk is enjoying a honeymoon upon his return to the Senate.

Everyone is rooting for him to continue to get better. He’s still recovering, in therapy several times a week — while in D.C. at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and at the Senate gym. His speech is improving.

After a long absence in many parts of the state, Kirk in August has been doing his most extensive statewide travel since his Senate re-entry, hitting, besides stops in the Chicago area, Peoria, Springfield, the Quad Cities, Galena, St. Charles and Freeport.

Duckworth may be the only political figure in Illinois who can mute the sympathy factor Kirk has going for him. Duckworth and Kirk both get around in wheelchairs or walk with canes.

She can also cut into one of Kirk’s long standing calling cards: his military expertise.

Duckworth lost her legs when her Black Hawk helicopter was shot down in Iraq in 2004. When she met with Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, one steel leg was decorated in a U.S. flag motif and the other was in camouflage.

Kirk will be in the Schaumburg Labor Day parade on Sept. 2 — the northwest suburb in the heart of Duckworth’s 8th Congressional District.


Twitter: @lynnsweet

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